Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Getting A Foot In The Door

A reader asks the following question:

I'd like to become an independent agile consultant, having seen the immense amounts of money available for very little effort. The trouble is that there seems to be a lot of other people with the same idea? How do I go about getting my first contract? Do I present at conferences so that people might think that I'm an expert or do I try to claim expertise in some field that I know nothing about, but no-one else claims expertise in? Will I stand more chance of work if I present a paper on a subject I know nothing about? Can you advise any suitable conferences to attend?

This is a very good question. How does one get start with being an Agile coach? How do you get a foot in the door of the organisation? What does it mean to get a foot in the door? Is it good for the organisation, like getting a free gift in a box of cornflakes? Or is it bad, like getting a Stingray barb in the chest? Here are some key tips for starting out:
  • The Humble Gaijin - you must not start preaching the word before inducting yourself into the world of Agile. In much the way that there are six degrees of separation between most people and, on average, two degrees between most actors and Kevin Bacon, so the Agile world has a similar ranking. If you have paired with Ward Cunningham, then you have a ranking of 1. If you have paired with someone who has paired with WC, then you have a ranking of 2, and if you have been in a film with Kevin Bacon, then you're probably not that interested in IT.
  • Conference attendance - once you have befriended someone in the Agile community, you need to invest in a conference - you need to get them to agree to let you co-present something, or at least help them with the presentation - perhaps you can hang the wallpaper that they're going to use for their next paper-and-strings exercise to demonstrate how to turn your well-educated team into a bunch of childish Blue Peter viewers.
  • Find a disciple - while at such a conference you have to network like hell. You need to find someone who is vaguely interested in Agile and you have to ensure that they know very little about it. Then you can begin the process of apparent reasonableness which suggests to them that the rewards of Agile can be brought to their company in such a way that their management will hear what they want to hear and perhaps promote this poor trusting fool in the process.
  • Blog like crazy - this blog is a good example. The more apparent sense you've written, the more people will apparently believe you. You can refer people to your website and even justify spending consultancy time updating the site "because it's for the benefit of the company". The blog will give you a mystique - especially if you register it with various off-blog communities, like or
  • Presenting a paper - a paper would be bad, but an online white-paper stating the flaming obvious and then relating it to some obscure Japanese martial art (incorrectly) would be useful.
Essentially, this business is about reputation. If you can find someone less famous than you, then they will assume that you have more reputation than you have - they can be the Jenna Elfman to your Kevin Bacon and you're in business. It doesn't matter that there are loads of clones of Agile-consultancy out there. The process is adaptive and while there remain software companies who think that their perfectly sensible processes can be improved on (and they always will) then there are bound to be suckers for your particular brand of self-indulgent common-non-sense. Remember the words of P.T.Barnum.

Oh, and conferences are always a good idea, my advice is XPDay, which is neither a day, nor about XP.

Any More Questions

Following the successful Questions and Answer session back in June, here is another chance to ask questions of the Agilissimo himself. If you want to ask a question, just write it on the front of an index card, and write the expected answer on the back and then stick it to a pinboard.

Alternatively, just post your thoughts in a comment on the back of this post. All questions will be answered... unlesss they're not.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Is AGILE Dogmatic Enough

There are two answers to this. One is "yes". The other answer is more complicated. It amounts to "no", but it would be worth exploring why Agilogma (the dogma of Agile) is not yet at its naturally dogmatic extreme. Surely the principles of Extreme Agile will lead us to a full-on dogma, more resolute than current Agile practice, and worth of the name Agilogmatics. In time, Agilogmatics will be seen as the delivery of the ultimate promise of Agile.

Why Dogma Is Bad
Dogma is bad because sometimes people notice that it's based on unyielding, unflinching blind faith and seems almost irrelevant to their lives, their work and their life's work. Dogma, when spotted, can be easily dismissed as nonsensical dogma. This is, of course, very bad.

Why Dogma Is Good
Alternatively, "love is not love which alters as it alteration finds". In other words, a yielding doctrine isn't worth the paper that it's not written on. So, it's important to be able to sell the Agile process and everything else as an absolute. If it appears to be flexible, then it will appear to be made up, and anyone can make up a series of irrelevant principles, so why should the Agilist be special? So, it must be possible to demonstrate the dogmatic nature of Agile in order for Agile to exist at all.

If you can make it look dogmatically strong, without making it look dogmatically insane, then you'll get away with it.

Why Agile Isn't Dogmatic Enough
In many ways, the problem with Agile is that it intentionally tries to go about anarchically fitting the team and the problem. It does this with dogma, but hooks into the team with the apparent flexibility to fit the existing people and constantly changing problems. This leads to a conflict. Something can be dogmatic and flexible at the same time. Yet Agile is dogmatic in its flexibility and emergent processes... though it can only work with the dogma of pairing, refactoring, annoying people, being smug, disinformation, misinformation, misdirection, misappropriation of consulting time, reading of stuff about Toyota, and constant interruption. The conflict comes from the the flexibility.

Were Agile to specify exactly how everyone should behave and exactly what the problem should be, then it would be so easy to enforce that people would have difficulty arguing with it, even though they'd stil be unable to make it work.

How Agilogmatics Will Be The Golden Bullet
Agilogmatics will not be a silver bullet, because there are no silver bullets. However, it might become a golden bullet because that sounds better. Basically, the Agilogmatist will declare that they are going to force change on an organisation by the forced implementation of a series of counter-intuitive processes. That they're counter-intuitive will be seen as (because it will be shown to be) better than intuitive, because it takes genius (and salmon) to swim upstream. It will even be possible for the Agilogmatist to declare exactly which subset of the personnel and problems of the company they expect to revolutionise in this way. It will be unswaying and relentless and will last as long as the consultant espousing it can continue to draw his consulting fee.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Telling People What They Don't Want To Hear

Nobody Said it was Easy
Nobody said management was easy. If it were easy, then people wouldn't pay managers very much and they wouldn't be able to spend money on all the non-essential essentials like a sat-nav for the BMW which takes them at high speed from their cushy homes to their cushy offices every day. The very thing which makes management difficult is the fact that it's so easy, yet its status is based on the fact that it's difficult. So, the pretense must be maintained or order will dissolve into chaos, governments and bank balances will fall, and managers will have to stop watching their expanding waistlines and do some real work for a change.

There are exceptions to this rule. Usually in the early days of management, the manager will realise that the only way to get results is:
  • Treat all the people with respect
  • Don't ask someone to do something that you couldn't do yourself with that same degree of instruction and empowerment
  • Don't dodge problems
  • Don't tackle problems too heavy handedly
  • Keep your temper and keep objective about what's going on
  • Don't use status to force outcomes
  • Don't forget status and confuse people
As a result of these early-days managers, some people form expectations that management are a jolly nice bunch who are interested in everyone having a nice life and making a living. This is not where managers end up. In some ways this is a shame. However, if you're the sort of person who intends to make their money from being a manager, or being a consultant that managers rely on, then you're going to have to learn some hard lessons.

The Isolation of Management
Being a manager is never having to say you're sorry. If you did that, then that would be a sign of weakness, right? Well, probably not, but let's assume that your illusion of power is all that's keeping you in employment and that you're no longer able to do any of the actual work that the people on the ground are doing. What you have to do is wield this power through will alone. Sure you can sack people, but that won't get their work done - it might get the work of other people done, if they then come to fear you, but that's not necessarily a good thing, as you'll have to recruit someone to fill the shoes, desk, cubicle, or Audi of the person you sacked. The recruitment process takes effort and you're going to have to put that effort in. Since the person you fired is probably someone you recruited in the first place, you can't go through too many of them before people start to remark that perhaps you wouldn't have had to sack this now-vilified waster if you hadn't hired them in the first place. This logic is impenetrable and self-reinforcing (being that it is, basically, correct) and will give you more problems then if you somehow were able to avoid taking any action over anything.

The threat of an unspecified penalty is always greater than the reality of your semi-impotence.

This is where management starts to isolate you. There are reports up to higher management/shareholders/board/your god. There are demands back down to you and you have to convey those demands to your underlings in a way which somehow causes something to be delivered. The problem is that you don't necessarily know what, how, or when. This increasingly starts to isolate you. The more isolated you become, the harder it is to get anything done, and the more you have to work to keep your role as manager - a role which requires only the maintenance of the illusion that you're doing something. Ironically, the longer this goes on, the more you have to do to make it possible for you to hold a role in which you do nothing.

Dealing With Other Managers
The worst part of being a manager is that you have to have managers around you most of the time. Since they're all doing the same sort of thing as you, they're harder to fool. They're also harder to work with than your underlings' colleagues. Those managers above you are more extreme examples of what you're trying to do, and so they're either going to bully you, or act in such a conniving way that you feel physically sick, partly with fear and partly with jealousy that they appear to be getting away with it and being paid even more unjustly than you are.

To win in this game, you have to be good.

It's All About Image
Again, the aim of being a manager is to maintain the pretence that you're managing. You could try actually doing the managing, of course, but that simply involves going round explaining things to people and asking them if they're okay to do things which they're most definitely capable of doing and that soon gets a) boring, and b) obviously not worth paying a manager to do.

So, you have to project the managerial aura which makes people treat you as a manager. The way to do this is to use psychology. The way to do this well is to use testing, constant maintenance and short cycles:
  • Testing - you have to try people out - they may not react as you expect, so be prepared to push a little way here, a little way there and see what happens. Sometimes someone is easier to fool than you expected, or has triggers in a different area than you expected. Rather than waste your effort pushing the wrong buttons, probe this and spike that and you'll soon find out what you're dealing with. Once you've established a particular behaviour which they find testy, be sure to keep redoing it, just to be sure that their personality hasn't changed. If things have changed, either change your behaviour, change your test, or give them the apparent support they need to return them to the state they were in.
  • Constant maintenance - this is a sort of refactoring for management. The idea is that you keep on top of problems in your image as you go along - keep the effort involved in management at a constant, rather than sit back and let imperative-debt grow. Imperative-debt is a residual resentment that builds in your employees making them less and less likely to respect you enough to do as you say. This can be replaced by reflexive-resentment, the process of making your employees believe that the only people to blame for their terrible lives is themselves. While they're busy hating themselves, they won't have time to build proper resentment of you and you'll find it consistently easy to managerise them.
  • Short cycles - the key to good management is to move the goal posts as your underlings are getting close. If you do this too often then they'll never have any aims, but if you do this after too long, then it will look more obviously like you're making it impossible for anyone to achieve anything, as you snatch a defeat from the jaws of each and every victory. So, by short cycles of imperative, you create a near-term target which looks hard to hit and then change direction once people have grasped how they might just be able to hit it. This creates a sense of despondency and reflexive-resentment, as the peons feel that their efforts are being rewarded with tolerance, but that they're regularly missing what seems to be presented as realistic goal-setting. Genius!
This sort of Agile-management is exactly what you need to keep things ticking over balanced between doing so little that you're bored and doing so much that you feel stressed and cross and likely to be one of the first to get fired when the inevitable shit hits the fated fan of destiny.

Breaking the Cycle by Confidently Delivering Bad News
With a self-hating workforce, held together by your apparent tolerance of their failure, all you have to do now, is report this to upper management with confidence. With a bit of luck, they're using the same techniques on you and so are expecting bad news. However, if you compromise your image as a manager than you are nothing, so there needs to be a way to report failure positively. In addition, you have to report failure positively to the underlings in order to continue to foster their believe of your boundless tolerance. This is where the confident delivery of bad news pattern comes in. Essentially, you need to smile and say what nobody wants to hear in a way which tells them that they need to hear it. You have to be unrelenting, uncomplaining, positive and measured with your delivery. Ask questions. Of underlings you're asking them to answer that they accept their failure. Of upper management you're asking them to redefine their bounds of success for you then and their - this should tie in anyway with their regular re-goal-posting and so meets their own requirements.

In addition to delivering bad news, you need to present a story of a similar occurrence in another company and why none of the bad news is a surprise or indeed anyone's fault except those few people, who know who they are, who have failed themselves. You have to find the positives in the bad news and describe them as a lesson to be learned for the future.

As someone once wrote:

If you can keep your job when all around are losing theirs and blaming it on you.
If you can keep trust when you doubt yourself and are acting in an untrustworthy manner.
If you can keep your salary when all you do is lie and hate.
If you have no wisdom, dreams, thoughts of your own, triumps or tools.
If you can win when all around you are losing.
If you can talk with anyone and keep your smugness.
Then yours is the company and everything in it.
And what's more, you'll be a manager.