I wondered for a long time how agile would be adopted in French/latin culture. Since Geert Hofstede, it is commonly adopted that countries have fundamental differences in the way people behave as groups. Agile has anglo-saxon roots, it comes from countries that inherit a protestant culture (I’m not talking about religion at all here). It fosters going straight to the goal, forgetting about micro-management, changing you organization. But in France, we are used to think before doing, and the power distance is way higher than in the USA. This is probably the main reasons why agile was adopted more lately in our latin (catholic, orthodox, you name it, though I’m still not talking about religion) countries.
Anyway, I was sure and desperately eager about it, agile would arrive here soon, because it’s the only way any software industry can progress. And even if it’s very recent, it finally became a strong trend in our business. In the mean time, lean came in the picture. From my point of view, it’s probably the main reason explaining agile adoption in France. Lean, with its Japanese background, goes more into the root of the problems, fosters more individual and deep reflexions through A3, and encourages to have a look at the organization more globally and provide good visibility on it. It’s finally a mix of these trends that allowed agile to be adopted in France.
I heard a couple of times that agile applied to France was referred to as fragile methodology (notice the word methodology, that I never associate with agile except when quoting others). It hardly matched our way of thinking. The community learned to talk to managers that didn’t understand how agile could match their constraints, the culture of their companies, how it could be adopted without a big bang, and finally how it could bring results. For example, one of the main concerns has always been: how can we have good quality if we sprint on features without thinking first of a good architecture? The community had to prove that it worked better. And it adapted its way to talk about it.
In the end, I have mixed feelings about agile in France. On one hand, we could prove that agile/lean could be applied to different cultures. This proves that France can remain dynamic and open-minded. It also proves that the root values of agile are pragmatic, well thought, and universal.
But on the other hand, I’m kind of frustrated by the way we talk about it. Instead of fostering organizational shifts, we rather explain how agile can adapt to existing organizations. Instead of explaining self-organization, we justify why self-organization is not anarchy, by considering organizational and cultural constraints. Instead of explaining continuous delivery or development practices, we insist more on the fact that we can only pick a subset of these practices depending on the constraints. All of this is true, but I’d prefer explaining the values of agile and apply them before explaining what trade-offs can be made.
Despite the fact I’m happy to see us shifting slowly, I understand that we need to begin somewhere, and that we need to convince people to follow us, I still regret we need to be so defensive. I’d like to see the movement going a step forward, and being more ambitious. Otherwise, I’m afraid that the main thing we encourage is agile labeling, which is worse than anything else. Fake agile, agile by the book, is the best way to have a worse system, and to discourage agile at the end of the day.
That’s enough about work. Tomorrow’s gonna be the perfect rugby day for talking about culture. It’s Crunch time. Allez les bleus!