I recently completed a course in Agile Management Principles and Practice through the University of California at Berkeley Extension. From the first day of class, I was impressed by the similarities between agile management concepts and Lao Tzu’s ancient text, Tao Te Ching. Given that the text’s title has been roughly translated to mean ‘the virtuous way’, perhaps I should not be surprised that it encompasses respect for others and values empowerment over control, key principles of agile management.
Below are examples of my perceived connections. Many English versions exist for Tao Te Ching that vary in wording; I have used excerpts from Stephen Mitchell’s translation. I find his translation to be more accessible than some to the Western mind, and it has the advantage of also being available through the Kindle smart-phone app for anytime/anywhere reference.
|Tao Te Ching Excerpts||Agile Management Concepts|
Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
|Take time to ‘see’ the problem: Resist the temptation to treat symptoms; ask “why” five times to get to the root
If you want to shrink something,
This is called the subtle perception
|Gather input from all stakeholders and value all ideas and opinions in order to see the problem fully, to be able to explore viable
alternatives, and to identify the best solution.
|Verses 2 & 29:
Therefore the Master acts without doing anything
The Master sees things as they are,
|Leaders do not dictate; instead they empower teams to self organize and to determine how the work will be done. The leaders provide
needed resources and remove perceived obstacles, but the teams determine the manner in which they benefit from this support.
The Master does nothing,
|Leaders inspire others’ enthusiasm and high performance, which leads to their successful completion of tasks.|
The Master leads
|Leaders inspire with a common vision and mission, and reward accomplishments that serve the customer, not just the individual or team
(e.g., meets minimum requirements rather than adding attractive, but unnecessary, ‘bells & whistles’).
The Tao is like a bellows:
|Avoid ‘analysis paralysis’; have a bias for action; time-box and learn from iterations.|
|Verses 48 & 63:
In pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added.
Act without doing;
|The more we analyze future potential, the more we tend to increase a project’s scope, and the more we tend to document (requirements,
processes, etc.). Instead, seek ways to do less. By eliminating waste, we can accomplish what needs to be done when it is needed.
|Verses 7 & 17:
The Master stays behind;
The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
|Servant leadership helps teams to accomplish great things and to take pride in those accomplishments.|
In dwelling, live close to the ground.
|Design solutions that are ‘good enough’. Avoid complexity.|
A good traveler has no fixed plans
|Agility requires flexibility, adaptability, open-mindedness, tolerance for ambiguity, and embracing change.|
Know the white,
|Be the change you want to see. Model the values you want to instill.|
If you want to be a great leader,
The more prohibitions you have,
|Relinquish command-and-control management style and trust teams to do what is right. They will be more productive and design better
solutions if allowed to self govern and to explore new directions.
A great nation is like a great man:
|Transparency and honesty are essential to creating trust and to ensuring continuous improvement. Don’t shoot the messenger.|
Failure is an opportunity.
|Learn from what does not work as well as what does work. Iterations might mean releasing output that does not perform as expected, but
more can be learned from that—and more quickly—than from waiting to release a product that is deemed complete. Celebrate the learning
rather than seek to assign blame.
True perfection seems imperfect,
|Perfection is the enemy: Its definition is subjective and, thus, never achievable. True perfection is what meets the customer’s minimum requirements now.|