Overcoming Self-organization Blocks in Agile Teams

At the SQD2013 conference Andrea Provaglio (@andreaprovaglio) talked about the social aspects of software development. He says, software development is intangible, collaborative and heuristic while our education prepares us for linear, standardized and predictable processes. (Software development) teams are systems. Systems self-organize, if they can. (A plant is a system, and it self-organizes; it turns towards the light).

Self-organization (in a software development team) cannot be enforced, it can only be enabled. The team cannot be empowered to self-organize: Power can be given, power can be taken. The team needs the room to emancipate: emancipation cannot be taken away. Nevertheless self-organization needs leadership to align the team with the business goals and share existing constraints. Leading is different from commanding, though.

There are indicators for why self-organization doesn’t happen:

  • People build fences. They point out other’s mistakes, like to see other’s fail, take side against something or somebody, etc.
  • There is a blaming culture, mistakes are considered bad.
  • Judgement combined with superiority and and emotional quality to it.
  • Relationships between different persons are parent-child-like instead of adult-adult. If people are getting told what to do all the time, they can hardly self-organize.
  • People feel they are paddling against the river.

Watch out for those indicators.

Andrea redefines self-organization as Collective behavior that manifests itself when the individuals take personal responsibility in co-creating a shared future. I like that.

Software Quality Days 2013

SQD took place in Vienna from January 15 to 17 2013. My first impressions where: Scrum is everywhere and open source does not play a major role.

Most people I have met came from rather large organizations. They mostly face different problems than us: running one large project with multiple teams. We instead have one development team running multiple projects.

However, the topics at the conference where not too far off: we at gocept are building high quality software, too.

  • Andrea Provaglio (@andreaprovaglio) talked about Overcoming Self-organization Blocks in Agile Teams: why do we need self-organization, how can it be enabled and what can prevent it.
  • In contrast to Andrea Provaglio, who says that software was intangible, Tom Gilb (@imtomgilb) has a completely different opinion: since you can quantify anything (including software), it cannot be intangible. In his talk Quality Quantification for Quality Engineering he stated that all quality requirements need to be quantified (actually he states this for years now). When you actually what to verify if a certain quality level was reached (or not) you must quantify it.
  • Sander Hoogendoorn (@aahoogendoorn) talked about agile anti-patterns, like “Dogmagile”, “Crusader Agile”, “Scrumdementalism” and others. His views pretty much match mine: don’t be dogmatic, do what works.
  • Professional speaker Herman Scherer (@hermannscherer) held his talk Jenseits vom Mittelmaß. It is roughly about being competitive in today’s environment. Very inspiring.
  • On the bad side there was Rainer Stropek’s talk about Monitoring and Root Cause Analysis in Dynamic Cloud Infrastructures. While there was some truth in it, it was extremely high level and basically a road show for Microsoft Azure: #fail.

The conference itself was well organized. The call for papers for the SQD2014 is open until May, 31 2013. Maybe next time we can put in a breeze of small business and open-source.