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Methods Don’t Create Health

 29. March 2018

maybe the real first wrong was the slide into “method” in the first place.

have you ever known yourself to behave in a way that is generally perceived as neutral or even positive, but in a way that is actually doing you or others harm?

Depressive Solitaire

my work makes me think a lot. and i quite often do that thinking on a low boil in the background, as i’m doing something else, most often for me playing a game. a lot of folks do this with solitaire, for instance. there is nothing wrong with solitaire, and there is a lot right with letting your mind work on something by looking away from that something. playing solitaire, or taking a walk, or what-have-you, generally neutral or even positive.

but every time i play a game, i am not thinking. sometimes i’m just playing my game and enjoying it. other times i’m doing something else altogether, something “not good”. the “not good” thing i’ve been known to do is just sit there neither enjoying the game nor doing background development, but rather, just completely shutting down while i go through the motions.

a certain amount of that seems unavoidable, for me and for us. after all, humans do background development work that isn’t detectable by us, and we don’t always know what’s going on. and sometimes shutting things down is the only healthy response, too. over-stimulation isn’t good for one, either.

but – i was a practicing hardcore depressive for over 30 years – when i am shutting it all down, it’s very often a warning sign. and if i shut it down for days and days and days, it’s way more than that. in my case, and i know i’m not alone, it’s life-threatening.

What Makes Some Processes Depressive?

what does that have to do with my opening salvo?

these cases: “just playing”, “background processing”, “healthy withdrawal”, and “depressive/OCD”. what makes one different from the other?

what makes one different from the other is the human. that is, me. it’s inside me. it is somewhat visible to me, a little visible to those who know my patterns well, and virtually invisible to outsiders, or at least invisible until dangerously late in the game.

i’m hoping you’re still with me, that you can relate to some or all of that long digression, because now i want to jump back to the question of method.

Back To The Method

have you even seen a happy team doing method X, for values of X like Scrum or XP or DaD or Prince or SaFe or – good lord, we don’t have enough characters for all of these brands?

i have. most definitely.

pick that X where you’ve seen happy healthy productive teams. i’ll just pick Scrum, since it’s so widespread and familiar to many of you. but you pick one where you’ve seen the good stuff.

now have you ever seen an unhealthy unhappy unproductive team doing that same method X?

i have. most definitely.

so what was the difference, between the rockin’ team and the despairin’ one? it wasn’t their method. (btw, if you’ve been around the block enough, you’ll be able to apply this to nearly any technique, whether it’s bundled into a brandname or not. i have seen test-first teams that were in great pain, for instance.)

well. what was different was the people. just as what is different from the neutral or positive game-playing and the depressive game-playing was the person. and when i say “the people,” i don’t mean the particular combo of individuals. that is, in the game-playing, the healthy and the unhealthy are both being carried out by the same me. (by the same token, i worked with that TDD-in-pain team for a while, and we turned TDD back into a lovely healthy thing for them. same people.)

same people, different state.

different state can be variously translated: different spirit, or mood, or culture, or any number of other words. suffice to say i am talking about things that are vague and inchoate but still real, internal to the team and internal to the members of the team. (i have seen many teams depressed to the point of life-threatening. it is a normal part of my work.)

Process Can’t Create Health

and here’s my point – long awaited even by me, and i’m the one doing the typing here – process, structure, method, technique, can inhibit health or it can permit health, but it can’t create health.

what we were after 20 years ago was health. the structures, methods, techniques all around us were actively inhibiting that health, so we sought another way.

now, that way we sought, don’t mistake me here, involved structure & method & technique, no question about it. partly because we’re geeks and we groove on that kind of shit. partly because the old stuff would not make way if we didn’t offer some new stuff.

Abandon “Process Creates Health”

the first of the four points of the agile manifesto says we value people over process. for “process”, read structure, method, technique.

when i play my game depressively, i am honoring process over people. when a team scrums depressively, or dads or safes or xps or tdds depressively, they are valuing process over people.

no part of this movement’s origin was based in the idea that “process creates health”. but everywhere we look, there are people claiming that it does and wearing our colors.

i wish to disassociate our movement with that idea that process creates health.

if you’re an “agilist”, of any stripe, please help me do this.