Is Age an Issue with Agile and Lean Improvements

This past Monday we were treated to a fantastic talk from Joakim Sunden who is an Agile Coach visiting from Spotify.  There were many great talk aways from the talk which you can read about here in the article Scaling Agile at Spotify.

The article talks about the scaling model at Spotify from Squads -> Chapters -> Tribes -> Guilds (not strict linear and hard boundaries).  All great stuff, however a question from the audience got me interested.

The question from the audience was something along the lines: ‘How old are the people at Spotify?’

This drew a pause from Joakim, not really expecting the question I suspect.   He drew breath and said that they we all younger than himself.  Now Joakim is not old, in fact I’m older, and he wears a funky hat, tshirt and sneakers.  He looks younger than he is, he later revealed his age and it was 39.

But this has got me thinking.  Why would someone ask a question like that?  Is it because it’s because as we age we become less amenable to change.  I was shocked to think this.  I regard myself as reasonably progressively and I’m actually a little annoyed that these better and more humane practices for working in software development are still taking so long to take hold or worse not applied correctly (flaccid agile).

It would seem that the younger generation are more inclined to take on these improvements.  One can even go so far as to say that Spotify could not have succeeded without a younger person’s mindset.  This mindset in more attune to Lean Start-up and they carry on the Lean Startup philosophy now that they are a larger company with 300 or so people.   If we were to apply traditional thinking we would not be enjoying the great product Spotify provides today.  In fact there are numerous sorry stories of venture capital funds being used up on starting a company without actually producing a product.

So older companies and companies that stick with older styles of working could be in trouble.  Not right now, but lets see in 5 to 10 years time.  It seems apparent to me at least, that these older companies aren’t changing because of the older people running them (yes a sweeping generalization).  We would like them to change for a number of reasons but is Age a barrier?  Do we need to wait for the next generation to come through?

Now I’m not proposing any fast fix to the problem, if indeed it’s perceived as one.  Going back to the questioner in the audience, his question seemed to implicitly assume an age hierarchy and that because older people were still present we could not progress with these changes out of ‘respect’.   Respect for people is a core component of Lean Philosophy and is called out explicitly in Agile Methodologies as well like eXtreme Programming.  Here is just one suggestion for a way forward.

Provide Safety

Allow mistakes to occur in small batches and ensure learning occur.  Toyota used the Japanese word – ‘Anzen’ which means safety.  This word will become more well known going forward.  Joshua Kerievsky is his company Industrial Logic is a major driver for this.

Will be writing some more about this in upcoming posts.

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