The Agilist Network

Tales and Tips from Agile Software Projects

Gestalt and Agile Adoption

Posted by kenhoward on November 26, 2008

When helping companies adopt Agile, the first instinct is to start wiring in tools and processes. Ironically, some mentors tend to teach a highly prescriptive form of Agile. As an llustration, reflecting back on Kent Beck’s Extreme Programming, critics complained that it was prescriptive, inflexible, and full of “must do this”, “must never do that”. Having met and learned from Kent Beck years ago when I was a Smalltalk developer, I know that prescribing a process was far from the spirit of what he was trying to do. Perhaps he was pushing an extremist view, expecting rational people to bounce back a bit.

Changing the behavior of individuals, teams, and organizations is a tough row to hoe. At its core, the Agile Manifesto conveys principles that rational people would have a hard time disputing. Look at the picture posted with this article. The obvious elements of the picture are the four colored triangles. A Gestaltist perspective indicates that the cross can be seen too, even though it isn’t emphasized.

Similarly, the core elements of Agile: Collaboration, behaviors, teams, accountability, progress transparency, focus, efficiency, etc., are all concepts that few would dispute. So the real challenge for an Agile mentor is not to teach what these concepts are, rather it’s to help remove organizational and sociological blocks that prevent teams from employing them.

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