Sep 262012
English: Billie Joe in 1994 Español: Billie Jo...

English: Billie Joe in 1994 Español: Billie Joe en 1994 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Steve Denning wrote an article, yesterday, addressing the question of whether or not Kanban is agile.  I’d like to address the points in that article (which all came from someone else, actually), but before getting into that, I want to address some meta issues with the article that I feel are best done by talking about the band Green Day.

By the time Green Day released their album, Dookie, they had long since abandoned punk rock.  However, you can still hear some attachments to that genre in their music.  Dookie got lots of time on MTV (some of you young’uns may not remember that Music Television actually played music at one point) and the radio, both of which led to a popularity the band hadn’t really enjoyed prior to that time.

A curious thing, happened, though, as these newly minted legions of Green Day fans professed their newfound love of punk rock.  These people did not cut their teeth on The Clash, but Green Day represented punk rock to them.  Anyone who knew what punk rock really was knew Green Day was not that, including Green Day, themselves.  Sure, their music was enjoyable.  Sure, there were elements in there from punk rock, but it wasn’t punk.  It most definitely was punk, however, for college students all over America who had no basis for comparison.

Is Green Day an enjoyable band?  Sure (my favorite Green Day song is “Minority”).  Was their popularity good for punk rock as a whole?  That’s harder to figure.  On the one hand, their popularity exposed a new generation to some punk rock elements that perhaps they might never have heard, otherwise.  Perhaps some of these even went on to explore punk and proto-punk bands and developed a fuller appreciation of the music and the philosophies that boiled at the heart of the movement.

On the other hand, for every one person who knows Green Day isn’t a real punk band, there are fifty who equate them with punk rock.  Is this good for punk rock when Green Day is their flagship representative in pop culture?  Is it good for the punk movement when college kids are hanging out at Starbucks talking about how they’re all into punk and their favorite bands are Green Day and Good Charlotte?  Debatable.

This is the basic struggle I have whenever I read a Steve Denning article, of which there is no shortage.

On the one hand, I love that, because of his labors, agility and discussions about agility are flowing into the mainstream when they otherwise wouldn’t.  The man writes for Forbes, for Thor’s sake.  With virtually every article, he tells the business community that your days are numbered if you aren’t agile, and that agility isn’t just a set of software practices, but a principle-driven movement that is intended to transform a whole organization in thought, practice, and values.

On the other hand, he doesn’t really understand agile.  He has an ok grasp of Scrum, but that’s about as far as it goes.  Each article of his is about a 70/30 misunderstanding/good stuff split.  It has elements of agile, but it isn’t, and he really ought not to be the flagship representative of it.  I have mentioned this in passing, before, using his example of calling Apple an “agile” company.

Unfortunately, to the masses, he is.  He is the Green Day punk rock experience to masses who are unfamiliar with writers who actually get it, or the agile coaches who are producing actual victories in the field, or the philosophies and “bands” that bubble in the heart of this movement.  He is, essentially, the patron saint of People Who Talk About Agile Who Don’t Really Know What They’re Talking About, through no real fault of his own.  It just so happens that he’s popular and accessible, much like Green Day.

Most of you probably harbor dreams of opening punk rock clubs.  If you were to do so, and a band wanted to headline at your club, and they described themselves as Kansas City’s greatest punk band, and then proceeded to cover Good Charlotte songs, you might rightly wonder if they really knew what punk music actually was.  This is analogous to how I feel when I see his articles being thrown around agile discussions.

Which brings us to this specific article.  There are, as expected, some misunderstandings and misapprehensions.  Further, the vast majority of the article is quoting someone else’s book.  This is something that is always a red flag to me – when the majority of the information someone shares comes from someone else.  There are people who blog or tweet and 90% of what they put out there is from somewhere else.

It’s not that such information isn’t helpful; it just tells me that you have no authority of your own.  You don’t have a well of your own knowledge and experience to draw from.  You don’t have the level of synthesis that has made what you claim to espouse part of your heart, bones, and blood.  You don’t have the ability to extemporaneously apply your thoughts to a wide variety of practical situations in practical ways.  This isn’t a bad thing, but it is kind of dicey when you’re a consultant, and it’s especially dicey when you’ve written a book on management and write for Forbes as the voice of agile.

Tomorrow, I’m going to get into the particulars of his notes about Kanban, but I want to frame the context correctly.  I hope Denning continues to learn and continues being a voice for agile.  I hope he exposes more and more people to these issues and gets more discussions going.  I have read him for a long time and will continue to do so.

But keep in mind – he ain’t punk music.

  One Response to “Steve Denning and Green Day”

  1. Yeah, Denning’s article did nothing to clarify the vocabulary that gets strewn about when talking about agility.

    I have been in an environment where Kanban was successfully used to visualize our workflow, and then nothing was done about our horrible time-suck money-pit of a workflow because the company c/wouldn’t change. There is something to be said for the disruptive change of adopting a wholly different framework for developing products.

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