Command and Control Agile

Words convey meaning. They’re how we take the stuff deep in our brains and share it with others. They also self reinforce. David Levy says

“not only do our attitudes and perceptions affect our use of language, but our use of language in turn influences our attitudes and perceptions.”1

I came across some new words reading Joe Little’s blog entry Two Cheer’s for the Nokia Test. In the post Joe says: “Why do I like it? I think it is a simple way to set some sort of lower boundary on Agile (Scrum) and it tends to make two problems more visible: Cowboy Agile on one side and Agilefall (aka Wagile) on the other side. Cowboy Agile is where you are doing stuff you are making up on the fly (mainly not doing things you personally don’t want to do). Agilefall is where you are doing Waterfall (or mostly waterfall) and calling it Agile (or Scrum).” This started me thinking about some curious things I’ve noticed when looking at job descriptions for ScrumMasters.

I suggest you can determine if someone is doing Wagile or Agilefall based on language. If you find command and control agile in the description, I propose you’ll find an organization interested in Wagile/Agilefall. I offer the following examples.
From a job posting on Dice.com
Responsibilities

  • Keeping the project on time, using Microsoft project.
  • Setting team status meetings, track milestones, drive project.
  • Being responsible for driving the team and managing them to hit the projects time lines.
  • Leading scrum meetings
  • There will be 4 – 6 people on a team

This was the first example I noticed. It’s probably not the first one ever, but the mental models exposed grabbed my attention.

  • Projects being kept on time using Microsoft Project?
  • Drive the project?
  • Driving the team to hit project time lines? (Does there seem to be a lot of driving going on?)

I was so amazed by this mashup of agile and command/control I didn’t have the presence of mind to apply for the position.

Posted on the Scrum development email list

We are looking for a highly motivated Technical Project Manager eager to participate in the web2.0 world of user generated content, new media, hosted services and widgets. The successful candidate will be responsible for driving technical project management initiatives.

Responsibilities

  • Be comfortable acting in a Scrum Master role to facilitate the development process and ensure timely delivery of work products across a variety of product teams.
  • Identify and remove roadblocks for teams; shield teams from external interferences; work with the Product Owner(s) to maximize ROI; work with the Product and Development teams to ensure goals and backlog items are addressed.
  • Help ensure that technical projects are delivered on time by managing the project schedule, mitigating risks as they arise and escalating issues as appropriate.
  • Formulate and work to define technical scope and objectives of the project.
  • Communicate project status to management and stakeholders.
  • Work with development and product teams to define project schedule and iterative deliverables.
  • Manage client expectations for projects to ensure ownership and success.
  • Assist in the development of project budgets, capital expenditures, requirements or other cost estimates related to a project.
  • Report to management, clients and others on the status of project deliverables and milestones.
  • Responsible for combining successful software development process experience with agility, effective collaboration, facilitation, leadership and coaching skills.
  • Responsible for advising and coaching the development team to form empowered teams.
  • Manage project schedules in Microsoft Project and simple spreadsheets for backlogs.

Qualifications include:

  • 3+ years Project Management experience
  • Ability to work on multiple projects at once
  • Proficient in Agile Development and strong experience with Scrum Methodology.
  • Qualified candidates should have experience in all aspects of software development life cycles, with an emphasis on Agile methodologies.
  • Scrum master certification a plus (Desired)
  • Formal project management training and/or certification preferred.
  • Fluency with Project Management Tools.
  • Strong, attentive listening skills with ability to work in a fast-paced environment.
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Project, Excel, PowerPoint, Visio and Word required.
  • Self-motivated, flexible and ability to multi-task and handle concurrent projects.
  • Ability to influence and collaborate with all levels of technical and product business partners.
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication (verbal and written) skills.
  • The successful applicant will be a creative problem solver, a self motivator, posses a can do and attitude, positive mentoring skills and accomplishments, and demonstrate career building self improvement behaviors.

I considered not including the entire post (I did remove the company information) but felt to be fair I should include it all. Some parts of this don’t sound too bad. For example:

  • Responsible for advising and coaching the development team to form empowered teams. Sounds reasonably agile oriented.

But most of the responsibilities sound command and control not agile. And what’s up with all this driving? “The successful candidate will be responsible for driving technical project management initiatives.”

About this time I started to wonder if it was me. When I read the responsibilities, they make sense. These items need to be handled by someone somewhere at some time during the project. But the way the responsibilities are worded to me indicate a non-agile mind set in spite of:

  • Responsible for advising and coaching the development team to form empowered teams.
  • Proficient in Agile Development and strong experience with Scrum Methodology.

I’d like to say these two examples are unique in the recruiting business. Unfortunately they’re not. You can find similar descriptions on just about any job board that caters to software development. I was going to quit with these examples, but I felt driven to find an example of cowboy agile. Alas, I didn’t have to drive very far.

Also from the Scrum development email list

[Some company] is looking for a Certified Scrum Master-Project Manager for a 2 month plus contract position for a client in [a city]. This project starts almost immediately and has a go-live date of June 1 [sic] with a project completion date of June 30. This would be our client’s first time using Scrum so some training and mentoring of the team will be needed. At the end of the project, an evaluation of how Scrum could continue to be used as well as recommended in the next steps would be required.

There are about 10 people on the team. Other than training and mentoring, this person will be expected to be the project manager. They don’t need to be a subject matter expert, just someone experienced in the Scrum methodologies of running a project. The training could just be a formal one-day training session at the beginning of the project and then just kind of on-going during the project.

Here the rules have changed. There are no rules. Am I the only person who wonders why a company with a time critical project (it goes live the day after scheduled completion) wants to shift to a new development method? And a lullaby word keeps being repeated.

  • just someone experienced in the Scrum methodologies
  • just be a formal one-day training session
  • just kind of on-going during the project

If you didn’t read Lullaby Language I recommend doing so now.

Crossed Goals

I decided to learn more. Maybe if I could talk with someone I could understand better what they were looking for, so I replied to one of the above. I received a nice email from the person which said they’d have to talk with the account manager and get back with me, which they did. The reply was no more illuminating than the original post. After a couple emails back and forth I gave up. It seemed the recruiting company needed a body to fill a slot regardless of how it would affect the client’s outcome.

Truth in thinking:

  1. It’s hazardous to generalize from a single data point.
  2. These are my perceptions. I could be wrong.
  3. Just because something doesn’t work for me, doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else.

So, it is me? Or do others of you see agile being accepted as main stream verbiage while the main stream continues to do business as always? Let me know.

1Tools For Critical Thinking, page 5

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