Monday, November 26, 2012

Agile Ethics

Agile started as a discussion of lightweight software development methods. At least, this is why in February 2001, 17 software developers met at the Snowbird, Utah resort. When I talk to people about what attracts them to Agile, I frequently hear that simplicity of approach resonates with them. Remove unnecessary complexities and waste, and do whatever is meaningful and productive, in a way that works now and here. That is beautiful.

This is not what attracted me to Agile as a concept though. I was fascinated by a simple fact that those people were talking about efficient ways of writing code, and yet they started with values. This did resonate with me. Developing machine code and thinking values – as counter intuitive as it may seem and as organic as it can possibly be.

I have been thinking about the value of having values recently. Specifically,  starting last week. I am trying to comprehend the concept of “prioritizing values”. How can you prioritize values? It’s either a value and then it is a priority, or it’s not, and then, there is no need to prioritize anything. Have you heard of work/life balance?  “I have my values but I am doing whatever is best for my family.” Does it mean I can lie or I can betray someone’s trust if I think this is best for my family? This puzzles me and yet, as a Coach, I hear it sometimes.

Throughout years, I’ve learned to understand the concept of “work/life” balance and yet I do not get it. When I am talking to my colleague or helping my son do his homework, am I a different person? Do I divide “me-at work” and “me-at home”? Do I have different values depending on where I am and what I do? Do I feel happy in a different way when my code finally compiled, or when an employee got a chance he has been waiting for, or when my son does subtraction without counting physical objects? Am I working when I write my Agile blog at 2 am in the morning or am I actually relaxing because I enjoy doing it? I think that the concept of “work/life” is made up by unhappy people who think that when work ends, life starts. Luckily, not so for many of us.

Going back to ethics. When I was a child, ethics for me was no different than etiquette. I associated ethics with eating with the right fork and it seemed to me just another unnecessary constraint humans establish to add unnecessary complexity to their lives. As a child, I implemented a lightweight process of eating everything with a spoon. Worked for me.

When I learned that ethics is a set of moral principles, the concept seemed even duller. Until a week ago when I finally understood why Agile is more than a framework for me. What resonates with me that these 17 people in Utah came up with the principles based on their beliefs. They did not think in terms of “work/life balance” or “I hate to do this to my team but I have to do whatever is best for my family”, they thought about what matters most and based their principles on the values they believe in. This is what ethics is for me. It’s our beliefs in what is right and what is wrong. And right for my team and right for my family are not in conflict. Just because there is one right, and it is the choice that I make.

 I believe that it is not material that the product of this Utah gathering was the Agile framework of software development. If this group of people were in aviation, they would envision an amazing plane which will fly faster than any other comparable plane. If it were an economics theory, it would explain many processes in the modern world that we are still trying to comprehend.

No matter what the area of knowledge is – right values create meaningful things, and this is what Agile is for me. Meaningful approach based on firm beliefs in right or wrong that resonate with me. And I find it hard to believe in “what is best for my family” concept because our values do not change when we come home from work. Otherwise Utah gathering would never happen.


  1. Hi, Mariya: I've enjoyed your talks at NYSPIN and AgileNYC and am glad that you're sharing your wisdom in a blog. The people you coach are fortunate.

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Isaac! This encouragement means a lot to me.

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