True Agile stories : Chris, the Tester

Nicole Belilos

In Agile, we prefer Individuals over Processes and Tools. However, we hardly ever hear about these individuals, as we tend to focus on teams. In my daily life as an Agile coach, I see the effects Agile has on individuals, how they love it or hate it, resist or adopt, struggle or embrace.
I want to blog about these individuals who are the key to any Agile success. My tales are true stories of real people. I have only changed their names and some small facts to preserve their privacy.

This blog is about Chris, a tester whose resistance to Agile was very big. Read what he went through, and be surprised by the end of this story.

Chris

Chris was a tester at a large, international company. He was 49 years old, lived close to the company and had been working there for over 20 years.  Every morning, Chris rode his bike to the office, where he arrived before 8 am. He’d politely greet his colleagues, walked into the room that he shared with one other person, and started testing.

Chris was a great tester and was well respected in the company. He knew the company’s old legacy systems inside out. He was the number one bug-killer; he would find the bugs no one else could find.

Chris was a very quiet man. He did not talk much. At noon, he took his lunch out of his bag and ate his sandwiches while he continued working. Chris did not like social get-togethers and tried to avoid all birthday celebrations and project parties in the office.

Then I joined the company to help them with an Agile Adoption program. Agile soon was rolled out throughout the entire development department and Chris’ life changed completely. He became a member of a cross functional team. He moved from his 2-person room into a huge open space where several Agile teams were located.  He had to attend meetings, share information, and work together with other testers, developers and analysts.

In the beginning, Chris did not like it.  At all. But being the nice, polite man he was, he complied and did not speak up very much. But he suffered in silence.

To increase his knowledge en skills, Chris got trained in Scrum, teamwork, and Agile testing. To remove his fears and resistance, we had many good talks together. Chris always remained respectful and pleasant, and I started to really like him.  I figured that he just needed some more time to get used to the new situation.

After the first couple of sprints, Chris’ team started to be successful. They produced quality code, their product owner was happy and they had a nice team atmosphere. I moved on to coach other teams.

I did not speak to Chris for a while, but after a few months I bumped into him. He had by then become an active and appreciated member of his team.  He still was  not a man of many words, but his input at the Agile meetings was very valuable. His team members knew they could always ask him for help. And he even attended all the team’s celebrations and events.

I was so happy to see this. I gave him a big smile and said: “Well, Chris, I am so happy to see you are doing so well in Agile. I bet you like it now, don’t you?”

Then he looked at me with his friendly, blue eyes and said softly: “You know Nicole, I really, really hate Agile.”  And with a sad little smile he turned around and walked away, leaving me speechless.

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This story shows that not every individual is happy in an Agile situation. However, we don’t want to loose valuable employees like Chris. And we don’t want to make them miserable till their retirement, either. What should an Agile coach, or an Agile company, do to accommodate people like Chris?

Comments (7)

  1. Dave Nicolette - Reply

    April 27, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Nicole,

    When I've encountered similar situations, I've asked the person to give the new way a fair chance so that he/she could make an informed professional choice as to whether to continue to work in that way or move to a situation more to his/her liking. I've known three people (so far) who did just that and ultimately chose to return to the traditional way of working. They learned the new way of working so that their impressions of it were accurate, and gave it enough time to be sure of their feelings. I have to respect their professional choice, since they did invest the time and effort necessary to understand exactly what they were choosing and why.

    Were you able to learn exactly what Chris didn't like about agile, or about the general situation, or whatever it was?

  2. Ward Bekker - Reply

    April 27, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Folks. Agile is not handed down by a bearded deity. I seems to work for some teams and companies. That's great. Not liking agile is OK. Chris provided great value before the A-thing, so making him feel miserable doesn't strike me as useful. Happy and motivated employees are more important in the long run than some pretty grid of post-it notes.

    My compile is finished now, gotta run.

  3. Derek Mahlitz - Reply

    April 27, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    I agree with Dave, at some point people will choose to accept the new or move back to the older way of working. I've seen folks in the same boat, leave 3 - 4 months after transitioning to agile because they prefer the cave mentatility. I have respect for those over others who just try to sabotage the transition at every turn without really investing the time to learn.

  4. Mary - Reply

    April 27, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Hi Nicole,
    I think I would ask him if he could point out what - in his opinion - is the thing he hates about the new situation. What he feels he has lost and what he has gained in comparison.
    What is different:
    I worked at large companies with legacy systems. Some people who knew all about these systems are very very sad to hear from others these systems are old crappy stuff. They worked on them for years and in a way these systems are very sophisticated, however old-fashioned. They were tweaked for many years and kinda worked like a sharm. If that is ignored or nog recognized, hmmm...

    And then the sometimes very noisy ceremonies and perhaps too little time to quietly think things over.
    what is the same:
    In your story he was and he still is respected in the company. He is still asked for advice and to share his knowledge.
    What he has gained:
    An now he and his fellow teammembers are succesful too (and hopefully faster and more modern).
    What the team could do:
    Perhaps his teammembers would allow him to have some 'silent moments'?
    Good luck!

  5. Will - Reply

    April 27, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    I think this is a case where the individuals and interactions trumps the processes and tools. If it doesn't work for him, then it's worth seeing what he would feel comfortable with and what he would like the process to be.

  6. Agile Scout - Reply

    May 1, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Great story here Nicole. Agile doesn't work in many environments... and frankly... sometimes... it's simply unnecessary.

    I think overall, your tester can see the value that Agile is bringing to the company, even if it's outside of his ability to change to the new environment.
    Like some of the commenter above, I would have conversations with him and make sure you get his input into the process. He may be quiet, but he sure knows what's going on. Listen to him. Agile isn't a blanket approach. There are many different ways to do it!

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