Agile, Change, and the Placebo Effect: An Interview with Linda Rising


In this interview, Linda Rising, an independent consultant and author, details the power of the agile mindset. She explains how agile is related to the placebo effect, as well as why being fearless is the same as being agile.

Josiah Renaudin: Welcome back to another TechWell interview. Today, I'm joined by Linda Rising, an independent consultant and author who will be a keynote speaker at our upcoming Better Software West Conference. Linda, thank you very much for joining us today.

Linda Rising: It is my pleasure, Josiah. Thank you.

Josiah Renaudin: Thank you very much. First, before we dig into the meat of your keynote, could you tell us a bit about your experience in the industry?

Linda Rising: Oh, my. Do you know that when I was in Rome just a week ago, I celebrated my 74th birthday.

Josiah Renaudin: Oh, congratulations.

Linda Rising: You don't want to know about my long career. We don't have that much time. I can tell you that most of my experience in actually developing software is around, maybe we could even say ultra large projects. I worked on military software, the largest Ada project in the world. You probably don't even know about the programming language Ada. It was popular in the early ‘80s. I also worked on the 777 airplane and on a lot of communications software. Over my career, mostly what I've seen is ultra large projects and of course the struggles that we had in delivering quality software on time, within budget and the failures to do so that ultimately led to all the interest now in agile software development.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah. Agile is a lot of what you discuss. Again, before we really get into the agile portion of this, I had mentioned you were an author. You wrote the books Fearless Change and More Fearless Change. Could you tell us a bit about the two books you've written?

Linda Rising: The two books I've written are cowritten, actually, with my good friend Mary Lynn Manns. We started twenty years ago on the first book, Fearless Change, because we were interested in patterns. We were trying to get our organizations to use patterns in development. We realized that we were both doing similar things, even though we were in different parts of industry. We thought maybe there could be patterns for introducing patterns. As we began to write those patterns, others who gave us feedback said, "These are not just patterns for introducing patterns. They're patterns for introducing any new idea into organizations."

That caused a giant shift in how we were thinking about that book which was published ten years ago. We spent ten years writing it. Over time, over the past ten years, we've continued to think about and work on patterns for changing not only organizations, but changing how individuals think and how individuals work and maybe even how the world works. Our second book came out after another ten years of writing just last year, More Fearless Change, with some insights into the original patterns and also some new patterns that we've been working on along the way.

Josiah Renaudin: Speaking of organizational change, agile is something that's come along and just had such massive impact on so many software teams. I feel every week I'm writing something new about agile, I'm learning something new about agile. You mentioned, when I was reading through your abstract, that you've wondered if agile's success has been the result of the placebo effect. Can you explain that theory and how you came up with it?

Linda Rising: I talk a lot about science these days because as a result of writing the Fearless Change books, I've become interested in cognitive neuroscience which is just a fancy way of saying how your brain works, because there's scientific evidence that can help us do a better job of thinking and solving problems and making decisions. We should look at it because in software we are not scientific. We don't do real experiments. We just get excited about new ideas because they seem to tell a good story about how things work. We get caught up in stories because our brains love stories. Without proof, we move off in a direction together. We all believe that the path we've chosen is a good one. Now, that sounds like it might work because we believe in it.

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