A long time ago I did a detailed examination and analysis of the Agile Manifesto. I was concerned that it was written only with software in mind. I wanted to find out what are the underlying values and principles and find a way to express them that was neutral to the kind of work being done. I wanted to find values and principles that could apply to any kind of work! From that analysis, I created a set of statements that I called the Agile Axioms. “Change is Natural” is one of three Agile Axioms along with “People are Creators” and “Reality is Perceived”.
This article about change is one of my very early articles on Agile Advice. Yet I still consider change to be one of the most fundamental concepts that still is not understood by-and-large among management and project managers. The concept is simple yet radical: you can’t plan out past a certain point. And if somehow you could, you would be filthy stinking rich because you could predict things other people couldn’t. I assume, since you are reading this, that you probably aren’t that wealthy and therefore, like me, you are bad at predicting the future. Here’s why…
Kent Beck’s book “Extreme Programming Explained : Embrace Change” provides a good introduction to how software development can embrace the constant change that affects our world. Some of the practices he introduces are very software-specific. However, the overall basic message is sound and provides a foundational principle for all agile work. (By the way, the book is excellent.)
Change really does occur everywhere. Change is constant. A google search for “embrace change” or “change is constant” will both turn up an incredible variety of articles, papers, discussions, books and viewpoints that all affirm the constant nature of change and the need to embrace it.
Nevertheless, it is sometimes difficult to accommodate change when we also have a legitimate and deep desire to know what is coming next.
For many teams, the environment in which they work is constantly changing. This change can be caused by competition between organizations, scientific or technological advances, fads and cultural shifts, major events in people’s personal lives or even just a change of opinion with a stakeholder. Any change, even small change, can invalidate a planned course of action. However, goals (as distinct from plans) are more stable and often survive even major environmental changes. Therefore, rather than trying to plan the future, an agile team can focus on being able to respond to change while still reaching a goal.
Nevertheless, a team needs some sense of what it will do in the near future. A team can work with a “horizon of predictability”. This is the distance into the future which a team can be reasonably certain that plans will be stable. Depending on the environment, this may be as little as a few minutes, or as long as a month. It is rarely longer. The horizon of predictability is not a precise demarcation, rather, expect change with a probability based on the horizon of predictability. Then, plan to respond to change. Be detached from the concrete details of a plan, particularly if they occur outside the horizon of predictability.
Responding to change requires a major mental shift for many people that is difficult and takes time and environmental support. People are often penalized socially or formally for being flexible or adaptable. This quality can appear to be “wishy-washy”, uncertain, indecisive, uncommitted or even rebellious.
The terms “agility” or “agile work” refer to this principle of embracing constant change since it is the most visible of the principles. However, the ability to respond to change relies on the establishment of agile work disciplines and practices.
[This article was originally published on 05-MAY-2005 on http://www.agileadvice.com/]