Quotes on Agile, Leadership and Communication

I like to live a life based on my own set of values. This includes ideas big and small, as well as the ones I just throw in for the fun of it. Every now and then I stumble upon something someone says, said or wrote somewhere that expresses these values in words, like I’ve never seen better. Thus here’s the most expressive quotes on agile.

Furthermore I want to communicate well. There definitely are patterns in my (probably all of our) language that in hindsight I don’t like, but can’t prevent me from still using. Again sometimes people say phrases that stick with me so well, they influence the way I speak. It’s sentences that trigger once I use the disliked pattern, so I can catch myself before (best case) or latest immediately after (normal case) I miscommunicate. These, too, I want to share with you here.

I have used this quote so many times. In every company, every team I bring it up. Sometimes it sticks. When it sticks, team members get:

  • more focused because before starting a 2nd task, they finish the 1st
  • more collaborative because before starting a new (1st) task, they try to help others finish something
  • more goal oriented because when they find new work, they ask themselves “Is this really required for this story?” (See also YAGNI)

Researching when and where this originates took some time. It wasn’t around beginning of the 2000s, but only appeared in 2009. By now this mantra of the Agile community is omnipresent at least in the realm of Agile practitioners.

CEO of GameDuell used to say this, the first company I worked for. Of course the quote is debatable: Sometimes, some things need to be perfect. The point is not that this is a 100% correct. The point is that we should ask ourselves 100% of the times: “Am I being a perfectionist right now, or do I really need this to drive the business forward?”

To me and to this day this quote is the short, more concise version of

“It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.” — Antoine de Saint Exupéry

The original (German) quote was: “Hoffnung macht die Realität nur noch grausamer.” Googling this I found an original phrase that is well spread over the web (banners, pics, t-shirt slogans):

“It’s better to feel the short pain of truth, than feeling the permanent pain of false hope.”

The effect of this quote is very simple: Do we or our leaders hope for things in your professional life? Doesn’t this mean, we are not in full control of our destiny? Whenever this memory gets triggered, I’m asking myself: “What (other than hoping) can I do to make this happen?” Hope is not the means to an end. Hope doesn’t change things. Action does.

The second quote on this list, that I haven’t heard by someone in person. Technology being the product of the culture building it, most certainly is a bit of a generalization of Conway’s Law:

“organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.”

Still I like the quote for its brevity and exactly the higher context: Culture goes much deeper than organizational structure. If you have great culture, a temporarily bad restructuring might well be overcome. Yet in an unfit organizational structure no good culture can emerge from a bad one. (See also: “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.”)

Bottom line: When looking at transforming a company’s technology, we have to transform that company’s culture. We all try to leave personal stuff at home, but eventually it’s personal connections that shape a company’s culture. How can we create strong personal connections without becoming personal?

This was the line that inspired the idea of sharing these quotes. We were talking about automation and how it could be that for some components of our system it was easier to manually deploy them, bypassing Jenkins and the most basic tests and without other people knowing. So we restricted this way with the above rationale.

That’s it. No more throwing things over the fence. No more finger pointing on who is responsible. Everybody is. And pretty much no shorter way to say it.

Here’s another one on communication: Just like with “hope” now “assume” triggers me to be more attentive. Instead of ASSuming nowadays I just ask a question. If the assumption was right, the question is quickly answered, causing only a very short interruption. But if the assumption was (would have been) wrong, by asking the question instead I’m not hurting the relationship.

Here’s a late addition to the list of easy to remember yet powerful quotes around agile software development:

Here’s a bit of an origin story of this quote by Ward Cunningham. To me, this one basically replaces this former favorite of mine:

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

— Peter Drucker

Drucker’s phrase aims at the wastefulness of efficiency without effectiveness. “Make it work, make it right, make it fast” is not only more to the point. It is also more valuable since it states things positively. A clear call to action in a prioritized manner. Let’s stick with that.

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

Reid Hoffman

Feedback is important. That’s why the latest addition to this blog post is about one of my favorite quotes regarding feedback. I got to know this quote in a slightly different form and I think it works ever better this way and works for anything: Concepts, texts, pictures, applications, game ideas!

“If you’re not embarrassed by [it], you’ve asked for feedback too late.”

Since I know this mantra, I have situations like this: Someone asks me “Robert, is [this and that] ready yet?” and I respond “I’ve already worked on it, but I can’t show you yet, because it’s not good enough yet.” GOTCHA! Not yet good enough is entirely in the eye of the beholder. The best time to get feedback is now!

What are your favorite quotes on agile? Reply on Twitter or just mention them right here in the comments.

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