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Does Agile Work because We are Optimistic?

Johanna Rothman read a Businessweek article from this past January that found that optimists tend to underestimate the effort involved in getting big tasks done. This also causes optimists to take more risks in innovating. In a post at her blog, Rothman wonders if optimism is agile’s secret ingredient.

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In contrast to the optimists, pessimists are actually the most likely to accurately predict how long it will take to complete tasks, but it is more a case of people being self-defeating with low expectations. In this light, the naiveté of optimism starts to sound a lot better. In agile, optimism tends to take place through the completion of small chunks of big tasks. Chipping away at the whole can build hope and excitement for eventual completion, even if the end is not quite as close as we think.

But no, Rothman does not think it is optimism alone that makes agile a winner; feedback is another major factor. Getting feedback during a review allows trust to build, which in turn begets ever more efficient levels of feedback. Rothman says it is when we really understand our requirements that “feature-itis” can even happen, because it means we are optimistic enough to start throwing in the kitchen sink.

What it boils down to is this:

If you’re doing agile well, you’re delivering new small features into the code base every day or every other day. That helps you feel as if you’re making progress. When you feel as if you’re making progress, you can be more optimistic or hopeful. That helps you see new possibilities…I have said that in my experience, when people work in an agile way, they are more productive and more effective. Now I wonder if this is because they are optimistic and hopeful about their work.

This could be a case of mistaking correlation and causation, but in either case, it is nice to know that optimism and agile can go so well hand-in-hand together. You can read her original post here: http://www.jrothman.com/mpd/agile/2015/01/does-agile-work-because-we-are-optimistic/

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