Monday, January 28, 2013

Collaboration Not Compromise Or Control

Why aren't we seeing the value we expect from our agile implementation?

Many of the agile implementations I have seen struggle with achieving the value they set out to achieve. One of the big reasons is we replace collaboration with compromise, control or some combination of them. Collaboration Not Compromise or Control could be another way of stating the agile value of People and Interactions over Process and Tools, I am not sure, this is a work in process in my mind. I believe collaboration is that 'thing' we are striving for that will give us the best chance at achieving the outcomes we are seeking. This wording comes from thoughts and ideas I have been reading from @alshalloway, @flowchainsensei, @drunkcod and others. Being that this is work in process please help me work this out and smooth the flow of this idea.

Most would agree control is not collaboration (I think)

Control is violence against the individual. It assumes the worst in others and seeks to minimize the effects of the persons expected 'badness' by limiting the individual as much as possible. @flowchainsensei has a great set of blog post on the ideas of non-violent communication at

Sometimes command and control can have some good outcomes but they are becoming fewer as complexity continues to grow. I believe it is also wrong to look only at one outcome and not its effects on people. Outcomes must be good to and for individuals if they are going to be sustainable. 

Compromise is (usually) not collaboration either 

Compromise is often the majority acting violently against the majority. A recent tweet by @drunkcod made the statement "Compromise is Latin for 'everyone loses'". We usually want compromise when we are not in control so that we get some say in how things are done. Compromise also means you give in to my ideas.  Compromise is someone giving in to someone else or someone else's ideas. Compromise is violence imposed on another person with the use of nice words. Putting it in another way, compromise is control via manipulating others to go along with you.

Control and compromise are not the same thing but quite often lead to the same poor results and are usually bad for people, individuals.

So what is collaboration?

I think collaboration can be explained in a couple of examples. I take the first example from an @alshalloway tweet, which occurred during a conversation about coming up with a set of practices that fit your context, "I've been saying this for a long long time. XP, Scrum, Lean, Kanban, hybrid (5>2)". If a team has the experience from all of these methods they are likely to be able to find a process that fits their needs and context. This is the type of collaboration we need, not only creating the right system to work in but also making other decisions. It is not compromise, though potentially someone with a strict we must do these practices this way may think it is.

The second example of collaboration comes from a common goal and set of principles. Collaboration is difficult to come to by when we only understand a set of practices. In the midst of the same conversation which turned to fixing dogmatic implementations of Scrum, @alshalloway made the statement "we don't (fix them) -they fix themselvs once they understnd what they need 2do. following practices not as good as understandin(g)".

It also requires the idea that we are going to make some prediction about the expected outcome of a certain set of actions and then adjust when we are wrong. When we are only implementing a set of practices, a few things hinder us from collaborating. The first is we are closed to other ideas. Secondly, everything that is not practice X looks like compromise to us. Thirdly, we have trouble looking at the outcomes critically and leaving open the fact that the practice we believe in is part of the problem.


Collaboration is where we can achieve good things. Don't get me wrong, it does not guarantee good things but enhances the possibility of good things happening. Collaboration is also a much better place to be in as a team member.  Collaboration requires me to give up control. It avoids violence by being open to learning from others, taking all ideas, experiences and knowledge and turning the combination into something better. It avoids the violence of control as well.