Monday, October 17, 2011

Surfing the Wave Between Chaos & Order

I attended the Houston TechFest this past weekend.  There were several really good sessions in the Agile track.  A portion of the session "Self-Organizing Teams - Chaos or Triumph?" by Robbie Mac Iver had a very powerful and simple message I'd like to pass on.  He began the section of his presentation by showing just one word:


...and asked what we think of when we picture a chaotic team.  Our answers were:

  • Unpredictable results
  • Difficult to manager
  • Free
  • Disorganized
  • Confused
  • Experimental
  • Innovative

Then he added another word:


... and asked what we think of when we picture an orderly team.  Our answers were:

  • Consistent
  • Easy to manage
  • Confined
  • Organized
  • Process-driven
  • Stifled
  • Regulated

He then pointed out that both chaos and order have good and bad aspects. Though wild, a chaotic team is free to experiment and be innovative, and though easier to manage, an orderly team's innovation can be stifled.  So there is a line between chaos and order, and it's on that line that an Agile team rides.  But the line is not a straight line.  It moves back and forth over the life of a project.  Sometimes a team is more orderly and other times they are more chaotic.  Looking at it this way, the line is really a wave between chaos and order alternately drifting between the two.

Taking that a step further we can say that Agile teams "surf" this wave through the life of the project. And like surfing it is easy to fall.  A team can very quickly fall into too much chaos and become uncontrollable. And just as quickly a team become too ordered where no new ideas are sparking.
The diagram made me think of yin and yang which is an Eastern philosophy that describes complementary opposites that interact within a greater whole, as part of a dynamic system.  It is the perfect symbol to represent an ideal Agile team having equal (yet varying) parts chaos and order.

One of Scrum's tag-lines (as well as one of it's founder's website) is Control Chaos.  This is the essence of Scrum.  Just enough chaos to be free thinking and just enough order to be successful.

No comments:

Post a Comment