Brian Raging Madrid

Posted by on May 12, 2011 in Agile & Lean, Conference | 4 Comments
Brian Marick (not wearing his hat)

Brian Marick (not wearing his hat)

Brian Marick opens the second main conference day of XP2011 with a keynote titled “Rage against the Power Law”. He started with a

Short History of Agile

Agile started in isolated places. The confrontation with a money-based company culture crushed Agile—the Economies of Scale for the Enterprise are Dis-Economies for Us.

History of Money

How money evolved over time: Before money, I might have had a spare calf, you had a nice statue, I swapped my calf with your statue… Money evolved from that Barter as it’s easier to divide up and does not require the people to meet at the same time. But, did it?

That’s historically wrong. Barter existed between tribes, was done with “other people”. Within tribes, there was a gift economy. So when my friend’s cow didn’t give birth to a calf this year, I might just offer my spare calf to him. Much later, he might give me something else that I need… Maybe, a statue:-)

So in contrast to barter, there’s no concept of a transaction. We strengthen our social network through the activities of people involved. Giving gifts achieves to things: it moves goods to people who need them, and it improves the social network.

Buying a candy bar from a clerk does not create or depend on a social relationship with the clerk. The money economy is independent of the social network, and it still co-exists with the gift economy. Neighbours help each other through lending of stuff, repairing stuff for each other or inviting each other to dinner. Within a tribe, people give and get gifts and don’t really keep track of it. You’re confident it evens out in the long run.

Us and Them

Product Owner as a Boundary Object

Product Owner as a Boundary Object

Agile people vs Them, that give us documentation and money and get business value in exchange, started as a working example of a money economy. Both sides were comfortable with not getting in touch with each other too closely. Later, instead of documentation, we got a product owner, which was a kind of an improvement. In addition to that, he started to become one of Us instead of one of Them. The business value gets passed through the product owner, and if all goees well, the economy might change and more closely resemble a gift economy: “We gift you with features that make you and us look good”—“I gift you (when needed) with protection.”

Business Value

Business Value is a Boundary Object. That implies that both sides don’t mean the same when they talk about business value. If we just replace Business Value with Money, we again turn the relationship into a money economy.

Stance of Reaction

Unusual for a keynote, Brian had us dance a bit of Tango. He explained the leader-follower principle. In Tango Argentino, this roles can switch, and Tango is a very reactive dance.



No matter what happens, you react to that. You don’t think about what’s coming next, you’re poised to react to whatever happens. We’re rather taught to take a stance of reduction in life, we try to simplify complexity. Rationality is about abstracting from, thinking about things.

So how does the Stance of Reaction relate to Agile? Brian was attracted by Agile because it embraces the Stance of Reaction instead of Reduction. Examples are code smells: If you take smelly yoghurt out of the fridge, you do not analyse it, you just react. Code smells tell programmers to react to ugly code, quickly, instinctively and efficiently—even if you do not have a rule for it. You react in an expert way without being able to analyse or explain it. So Questions like

What value does the costomer get from paying back this technical debt?

What value does the customer get from simplifying this design, cleaning the code?

Another Brief History of Agile

We left our little monastery, are now out in Enterprise Land, which has all these people who are supposed to help you: System Architecture Team, Human Resources, Operations, Compliance… We have built our gift economy, but our world view does not fit in most enterprises who are money-based, analytical-based. We are being colonised by a bigger, more powerful, foreign country.

What do we do about that? The standard answer in the Enterprise Agile World is “someone will drive the change”, the servant leader (and angel with budget authority) will take care of things…

Almost always the severe cultural incompability between agile and the company culture will lead to dysfunctional compromises like ScrumBut, KanBut etc.

Personality Types

Brian talked about personality types and showed data that eg in regards to intro- vs extrovertedness, the situation you’re in drives your behaviour much more than your measured traits. What do we make of that?

  • gives loud and spontaneous expressions of delight or disapproval
  • talks more than his share of time at the table

People expect such (extrovert) traits to be highly correlated, but they are not. He recommends a book, which explains why these types seem real to us: For instance, because we repeatedly see people in comparable situations, but do not attribute their similar behaviour to the similarity of the situation (and the group), but to the traits of that person (seeing a lunch-table extrovert leads us to think we’ve met an extrovert person). But why are people like Jerry Weinberg telling the world how valuable MBTI etc are? Brian says that’s due to their expert status: as they can’t really explain how they do what they do, they need to…

Agile Started Weird—Let’s Keep it That Way!



  1. Keefe Reese
    May 26, 2011

    Do you’ve a profile on facebook? I cannot seem to discover Brian Raging Madrid OlafLewitz on the website and I would love to connect with you there. I like your writing style, thanks Keefe Reese

  2. Royce Knupke
    August 31, 2011

    Hello there – I’ve been visiting your blog very often and am wondering whether it’s at all possible to sign up to your blog posts any other way then through rss. I have heard that many weblogs have E-Mail subscriptions to their new articles. Is there somehow I can do this here too? Thank you for any feedback! Royce Knupke from Indianapolis

    • Olaf
      September 1, 2011

      Installed a plugin, you can now subscribe to comments. Looking into the new post subscription thing next…
      Thanks for the tip.

  3. agile42 | StrategicPlay at Scan-Agile
    March 28, 2012

    […] The first presentation shows “Agile” on the back of an elephant (the similarity to Discworld was intentional, I heard later) confronting the established mindset… Note the reference to Brian Marick. […]


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