This is an excerpt from The Art of Agile Development, Second Edition. Visit the Second Edition home page for additional excerpts and more!
This excerpt is copyright 2007, 2021 by James Shore and Shane Warden. Although you are welcome to share this link, do not distribute or republish the content without James Shore’s express written permission.
Into the Future
Agile teams never stop learning, experimenting, and improving. The practices in this book are only the starting point. Once you understand a practice, make it yours! Experiment with alternatives and seek out new ideas. As you become more fluent, deliberately break the rules and see what happens. You’ll learn why the rules exist...and what their limits are.
What comes after that? That’s for you to decide. Agile is always customized to the needs of the team.
In the Agile Fluency Model, Diana Larsen and I identified a possible fourth zone: Strengthening. If you look carefully, each zone represents a different expansion of the team’s circle of control: Focusing gives the team ownership of its tasks; Delivering gives it ownership of its releases; Optimizing gives it ownership of its product.
Strengthening continues this trend by expanding teams’ ownership over organizational strategy. People don’t just make decisions focused on their teams; they come together to make decisions affecting many teams. One example that’s starting to enter the mainstream is team self-selection. In team self-selection, team members decide for themselves which team they’ll be part of, rather than being assigned by management.
Sound crazy? It’s not. It’s carefully structured, not a free-for-all. (See [Mamoli2015] for details.) I’ve used team self-selection myself and it’s surprisingly effective. The results are better than I’ve seen from traditional manager-driven selection. It leads to teams that are highly productive out of the gate.
The Strengthening zone is about this sort of bottom-up decision making. Governance approaches such as Sociocracy and Holacracy are experimenting in this space, as are companies such as Valve Software, Semco, and W. L. Gore & Associates. Jutta Eckstein and John Buck’s book Company-wide Agility with Beyond Budgeting, Open Space & Sociocracy [Eckstein2020] goes into more detail. For a lighter-weight introduction to the philosophy, see Ricardo Semler’s Maverick. [Semler1995] It’s a fascinating account of the author’s revitalization of his company’s management approach.
That said, the Agile Fluency Model has never been a maturity model. You’re not required to pass through the zones in order, or to achieve fluency in every zone. Although individual practices, such as team self-selection, have their place, I suspect full Strengthening fluency is inappropriate for most companies. But if you want to live on the cutting edge and join the ranks of the innovators who made Agile what it is today, the Strengthening zone is one place to start. Beyond that...who knows? There are additional zones waiting to be discovered.
Ultimately, though, Agile doesn’t matter. Really! What matters is success, for your team members, organization, and stakeholders, in whatever way they define it. Agile practices, principles, and ideas are merely guides along the way. Start by following the practices rigorously. Learn how to apply the principles and key ideas. Break the rules, experiment, see what works, and learn some more. Share your insights and passion, and learn even more.
Over time, with discipline and experience, the practices and principles will become less important. When doing the right thing is a matter of instinct and intuition, finely honed by experience, it’s time to leave rules and principles behind. It won’t matter what you call it. When your intuition leads to great software that serves a valuable purpose, and your wisdom inspires the next generation of teams, you will have mastered the art of Agile development.