Volunteerism, a core value missing from Agile
In my last post, Open Space (OST) and Open Source(OSS), I’ve highlighted some core fundamentals (values) of OST and OSS. After reading it, you might be thinking, boy, I really want my software project to be built on these fundamentals. Agile Software Development is really a step in this direction. A lot of people including myself have talked/presented about OSS and Agile. There are lots of similarities between them.
When Deb and I were organizing the first Agile Coach Camp conference, we invited John Engle to facilitate the open space. During our discussion about theme and target audience, we were explaining John how Agile works and he was surprised how fundamentally (at the values level), both Agile and OST were similar.
At the Agile 2008 Conference in Toronto, Dennis Byrne and I facilitated a panel on Agile and Open Source. It was a slight twist on this topic. Our panel was proposed under the “Questioning Agile” stage. Our panel was titled “Successful open source projects with little or no Agile”. We were really questioning if Agile is the only way to build software? Agile Software methods like Scrum and XP are getting more and more bloated. Checklists and templates have emerged. God knows what all crazy stuff folks have come up with in the name of Agile. But one thing that no one talks about really, came out of the panel. While there is some amount of volunteerism built into Agile, it has a long way to go compared to OSS or OST. Agile projects can be structured around Volunteerism and my belief is it’s really going to help.
In some organizations I’ve worked, we have had good success with corporate sourcing model. Once various project teams get into the rhythm and start building their products, the next issue they hit is to collaborate with other teams across the organization. I call this, the teams are being good tribesman. But now they need to be good citizens also. In corporate sourcing model, the core team acts as committers on the project, while anyone in the company can suggest features or contribute code patches. Volunteerism comes in because people have freedom to work on other projects that really interests them. In companies like Google, its a little more structures. They have the 80-20 rule. Where in your 20% time you can work on stuff you like. Another way to encourage volunteerism.
A lot of companies have a big problem, because they have some existing projects and they have some new projects. Most developers want to work on new, green field projects. Rarely anyone wants to maintain existing projects. But those projects are very critical to the company and the company cannot move all developers on new projects. What do you do in this situation? Morale of tea members maintaining existing projects is really low. But they do have some spare time and tons of idea which can really help new product development. The way I have seen some companies solve this problem is, they either set up a rotation program where team members from maintenance projects can choose which project they want to work for on a rotation basis. In some other companies, I have see, team members are allowed to contribute code patches or suggest new features to the new projects in their spare time.
There are various ways to encourage volunteerism in your organization. Not just at project level, but in other ares as well. If someone is interested in marketing or sales or training or recruitment, companies can use their valuable contributions. In most cases this creates a win-win situation. This also helps folks to shape their career and become all rounded individuals. More the number of roles a person can play, that much more valuable they become to the organization. So remember, volunteerism in very important not just in your project but also at your organization level.