Friday, 13 April 2012

What's eating Bob Marshall? (A polemic)

Today, dear reader I present you with a polemic. I feel obliged to warn you before hand because polemics as a rule are not my favourite fodder, and you might prefer to be spared my petulant outburst, as indeed I tried to resist penning it. But I can't get no satisfaction, so here goes:

Alright! OK @flowchainsensei, we get it! The scribes and the Pharisees have taken over. And they're in bed with the money lenders. Agile is not the true gospel.

Bob Marshall (@flowchainsensei) is concerned for the state of our “broken industry”. Do we inhabit the same digital space? My world is turned upside-down & inside-out with increasing regularity. Are not many of the problems in fact a measure of the industry's success?

Yes, it's important to have people around who see the glass as half-empty but it's really tiresome to have people running around screaming “Fire!” all day because the toast was burnt at breakfast.

In his prolific railing against all that is wrong in the world (of software development) Marshall consistently pits Deming, Buckminster Fuller and Ackoff, the truly wise, against those pretenders from Snowbird (and especially their disciples), while simultaneously, incongruously, lambasting all that is agile as old-fashioned and even outright evil. Don Reinertsen rightly points out however that the implications of systems thinking are potentially “terrifying” and concrete manifestations of Buckminster Fuller's sociological ideas sundered quickly under the crushing weight of their naiveté.

Any utopia is an El Dorado, and anybody claiming to know the way there is necessarily a charlatan.

But let's just assume that Marshall has seen the light, and that if we follow him we will arrive in the promised land, what will it be like? Well, like all visions of paradise, it's pretty enticing, as per Marshall's own description. But how do we get there? According to Marshall - by way of an instantaneous mindset shift effected simultaneously throughout the entire organisation.

There are leaps of faith and leaps of faith.

Luckily, Marshall also offers more practical tips, like ditching CVs. I find that an attractive idea, but the associated technical advice is weak - “hire mindset, not experience; where someone wants to go is what counts, not where they've been”. That's anti-empirical and probably the best way ever devised for ensuring the hiring of the slithery of tongue.

Another good idea that he espouses is subsidiarity. Marshall's version however has something unsettlingly absolute to it and is tinged with begrudgery: Leave it all up to the ordinary people, the folks on the front lines, and everything will be fine. Workers good, managers bad. To me, it smacks of the worst kind of spiteful socialism.

Dialogue is another favourite of Marshall's in his search for a better world, although an exchange has to be of a very specific type before it can qualify as dialogue. When I posted a link to my response to Marshall's “Agile Coaching is Evil”as a comment to said blog, he apparently felt that it wasn't in the spirit of dialogue and did not publish it. Repeated fruitless efforts at eliciting a reason for this have helped germinate some very uncharitable thoughts in my mind, thoughts through which sycophants and yes-men flit. I may just be paranoid.

So, sensei or coach? Whomsoever is willing to pick and choose from systems thinking, agile, lean and/or (social) complexity. Whomsoever eschews dogma and mystery. Whomsoever strives to help you improve your effectiveness through mindful practice & considered reflection.

Beware the false prophet – identifiable by his penchant for citing personally vetted Ancient Wisdom from August Thinkers, while hard-selling a puritanically proprietary Utopia.

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