Anarchy is not your enemy
What do you think anarchy means?
IMO anarchy is a desirable state, because it involves the freedom of individuals working together for mutual benefit. Obviously I’m summarising and haven’t provided any reasons, why I think that.
If you discussed it with your family, friends or work colleagues, then someone might mention something to do with this guy (the Joker, not Heath Ledger).
A quick google search will result in the following definition:
- a state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority or other controlling systems.
Similar: lawlessness, absence of government, nihilism, mobocracy, revolution, insurrection, riot, rebellion, mutiny, disorder, disorganisation, misrule, chaos, mayhem, pandemonium
Opposite: government, order
2. absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal.
That pretty much sums up what most people think anarchy means. But it’s a view tainted by context….. In western culture how we view specific words and symbols is influenced by our context and it is often exploited. Just to be clear, that’s true in any culture… why?
Well, it’s no surprise that linguists such as Chomsky place an importance on language. But this view isn’t limited to linguists, sociocultural theories recognise the importance of language as possibly the strongest tool in perpetuating, maintaining and reinforcing culture. If you are remotely interested in this, then check out Vygotsky. Here’s a primer on him https://www.simplypsychology.org/vygotsky.html
Yeah yeah but what on earth does this mean for software development?
So…just like society, organisational culture is rooted in traditional hierarchies. How decision making is facilitated, and subsequently stuff gets done is rooted in cultural context.
You can see it in the control mechanisms that are applied to software development and digital delivery teams. These are reinforced through concepts of mistrust.
What agile did and has done is challenge the control mechanisms. We can see them creeping back in with SAFe, Agile Project Managers and my current favourite (read that as pet hate) the “Agile Transformation Office”.
Even the hallowed Product Roadmap can be a trap, a great article by Maarten Dalmijn digs into this:
I’ve seen this myself, where a roadmap starts to looks suspiciously like a plan. Not a useful plan, but the type of plan that a project manager creates. You know, the ones that have dates that can’t shift. Dates that are used to beat down a team.
Planning is of course important, but plans that take on scripture like status are bullshit. One of my favourite quotes is from Moltke the Elder. No he isn’t a wizard from Lord of the Rings, he was a Prussian Field Marshal. Anyway he said…. “No plan survives first contact with the enemy”
TBH he said something a bit different, ‘“No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength”, but that’s not quite as snappy.
The point is that prediction and management of granular activities is not productive, as most plans cannot cater for events. Like documentation, plans can become out of date very quickly. This is directly applicable to us because in agile its about responding to change over following a plan.
In other words we recognise, that being able to deal with challenges is way better than trying to account and plan for every outcome. Let’s face it, that is what real life is like.
What is the best structure for responding to change? Super flexible self organising teams. I wrote something that alluded to this here we don’t need rules.
I propose that the old way of managing work via hierarchical management structures and immutable plans doesn’t work. Incidentally there’s another version of Moltkes quote:
Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face
Can’t lie, sometimes I do wonder whether violence would solve some of the problems I come across at work… But that is a totally different subject and obviously not a behaviour I would condone…..
Plus I’ve always wondered what the point of a project manager is.
I guess I’m stretching the definition of anarchy a bit, but being comfortable with ambiguity, and dynamic with regard to direction are far healthier behaviours for teams and organisations than imposing rigid deadlines and tomes of requirements/specifications.
Maybe “comfortable with chaos” would be a better way to describe it.
Although it has to be said that anarchist philosophy and theories include the rejection of hierarchies, encourage self organising and leadership/direction is by group consensus. All of which can be seen in high performing teams.
OK I will.
I’m going to be writing about this more. My experience of it, the underpinning social theories, behaviour and psychology that make it possible, and why it’s totally fucking awesome.