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. ----- BODY: 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 improvement appearing. 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 interpersonal conflict. 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,
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. -----