TITLE: Some Basic Principles
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: May 20, 2005 10:59 AM
DESC: The ideas of agile software development color how I think about corporate management, especially department administration.
I've been thinking a bit about how much the agile
software development mindset affected my application
for department head. When I first starting making
notes for my statement of administrative philosophy,
I jotted down some agile ideas: communication, people
over processes, trust. Later, as I made notes for my
presentation to the search committee, I again had a
bullet for agile ideas, with feedback and continuous
In the end, many of these ideas played important
roles in my application. Open communication and
building trust became cornerstones of my philosophy.
Feedback and continuous improvement became cornerstones
of my plan for doing the job. I never got around to
using the term "agility" in any of my materials, but
its footprint was everywhere.
My administrative philosophy rested on three points:
These principles are essential to any healthy organization.
They are perhaps even more important in an academic department,
which consists of individuals who are both highly autonomous
but also interdependent. They are especially important in
a department fraught with lack of trust and persistent
These principles are also very much a part of the agile
software movement. Communication fosters trust and
enables feedback, which is how we learn to do our jobs
better. People matter. What about transparent decision
making? Only decisions are made openly can everyone
involve contribute to the process. I believe that, in
most situations, more ideas lead to better results.
Furthermore, when someone disagrees with the decision
that is made, at least the person can trust that the
decision was made fairly and on principle.
Some folks think that preferring people to processes
means having little or no process. Others think
that not tying themselves down with process (in
administrative parlance "procedures and policies")
frees them to adapt better to changing circumstances.
Though I value adaptability, and people over process,
I believe that appropriate process is essential to
effective operation. XP isn't just a set of values
or a set of principles; it is also a set of
practices. These practices support
the values and principles, make it possible for the
team to live its values and embody its principles.
I hope to help my department develop an appropriate
set of procedures and policies. This will involve
streamlining some of our existing procedures and
implementing some new ones.
Soon after I submitted my application materials,
a related discussion developed on the
XP discussion list.
It started with a request for advice for navigating
the waters of corporate politics and soon turned into
a discussion of how the principles and practices of
XP can help us to create a good corporate environment.
Along the way, someone said,
- open communication
- transparent decision making
- respect for individuals
Ok, those are good suggestions for navigating oneself
through everyday relationships, in and out of work.
But they are not techniques that are specific to XP.
The answer to this assertion is both yes and no. Certainly,
communication, feedback, continuous improvement, and the
like are not specific to XP or any other agile methodology.
But they are fundamental to the agile methods, and by making
them explicit the agile methods help us to reflect and act
on them more readily.
As I told my colleagues and the other members of the search
committee, I harbor no illusions that I will do this job
perfectly. But I hope that, by making explicit the values
that I hold and the principles that I think should guide our
department, I hope to do a good job -- and to get better as
I go along. This will depend in great part on the level
of trust and communication that we are able to develop.