Agile Thinking

Last week I spent some rainy days in Manchester presenting a research paper called “Use of Appreciative Inquiry in Successful Software Process Improvement: An Action Research study” and at the IFIP 8.6 “Transfer and Diffusion of IT” conference. It was the first scientific conference had attended since I finished my PhD, more than ten years ago, and it was both comforting and sad that the format was more or less the same. Two of my three co-authors were also at the conference, and they did a splendid job presenting the case and the results, although the time frame was painfully short. I was rather satisfied with my introduction, since I used storytelling in several ways.

After the presentation, we got a few questions but also a very interesting suggestion. One of the popular concepts right now, in both IT practice and research, is agile software development. One of the researchers suggested that we should look into this area since it appears to share some common ground with Appreciative Inquiry. It could also be beneficial to use such a link when introducing Appreciative Inquiry to IT engineers, since our research demonstrates that the strength-based approach does not come particularly natural to them.

After a quick look, it sure seems to be something really worth while here. Although I must admit that I have previously assumed that agile computing was more of an excuse for not wanting to do planning or documentation, I know realise that I have actually applied some of the agile aspects in my previous life as an IT consultant and that there seem to be more of a structure than I thought. As to similarities with Appreciative Inquiry, there are several such as the “whole system in the room” principle, the emphasis on developing a shared vision that does not take departure in constraints, evolutionary iterations, face-to-face communication, working in pairs, emphasis on both quick and long-term action, self-organising teams, focus on motivation and adaptation and so on. We really have to look deeper into this!

By chance I saw that agile methods have much in common with the “Rapid Application Development" techniques introduced by James Martin. How strange that I am currently reading his book “The Meaning of the 21st Century: A Vital Blueprint for Ensuring our Future”! In 2005 he established The James Martin 21st Century School at the University of Oxford and its stated goal is to "formulate new concepts, policies and technologies that will make the future a better place to be".

It’s a small world!

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