Religious Wars

February 28, 2016

I had a long drive from Hull to the Arms Park today to watch the Cardiff Blues beat Ulster and dominate the Scrum for the first time in many years. Then home with the prospect of getting up early tomorrow in time to check into accommodation in Bangor then take a train to Milton Keyes – don’t ask it just sort of worked out that way when it should not have. While I was minding the affairs of every player on the pitch, trying to cope with a referee who had no understanding of the offside law and otherwise engaging with the event I made the mistake of checking twitter during a stoppage. Suffice it to say that this was a mistake as a very long exchange ensued with my responding during stoppages for most of the second half before it stopped.

That exchange reminded my of the degree to which religious wars occur between methods and approaches in management science in general, but in the whole Agile space in particular. Ironic really that I was watching rugby when one of those debates involving Kansan and Scrum started. In this particular debate we also had Taleb’s anti-fragility being thrown in for good measure. One of the characteristics of these various method wars is suborning other theories. I innocently said that I thought anti-fragility (which I see as just one type of resilience) could not really apply to any of the various methods that exist in Agile, most of which involve taking ideas from the manufacturing sector sideways into what should be considered a service industry (something I have mentioned before and to which I will doubtless return. It really was a innocent comment as well, I was distracted when I made it by the Ulster forwards being at least two yards off side in front of the referee without any penalty. But it was that which produced a response in which I happily gave as good as I got.

But reflecting on this I was reminded of the near religious zealotry with which method wars seem to be conducted within the Agile community. Within this overall rather tortuous space I see four distinct approaches:

  1. One faction spends much time explaining why everyone else is wrong in the hope that their approach will be the last man standing.  You see a lot of this in American politics at the moment by the way.
  2. Another, the more pernicious and dangerous, seeks to claim that everything is valid in all circumstances provided you first pay for accreditation and training.  This is the snake oil and pyramid selling approach of which I can think of at least three examples.
  3. Then we have the genuine differences.  As in the religious wars some of those differences really matter.   So justification by faith alone against justification by faith and works has major implications for society.  We should not go to war over it, but it should be debated and not swept under the carpet.  We need more of this, less of the first two.
  4. Those of us to say that some methods or approaches are right within boundaries, but not universal.  Further that some approaches are plain wrong in claiming universality.   We can also be intolerant by the way, but hopefully war is verbal not physical.

What is missing overall is real examination of the assumptions and principles involved. Also we need more collaborative development of methods and tools, something I plan to move on with project management and user requirements capture in the not to distant future through CfAC. Differences are important, schisms may be necessary, but doctrine dismissal is always a bad idea

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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