US Politics are not Agile

By JimBenson, published at 30 August 2007 - 10:11pm, last updated 7 years 4 weeks ago.

Change happens. People re-prioritize. Moods shift. The Two Party System is waterfall methodology at its worst.

Today I was listening to an interview with the Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. I've had the pleasure of having many long cooperative sessions and debates with Rob since the early 90s. I was a transportation planner and he was in the Washington State Legislature and very interested in transportation issues.

In his interview he said two things that really pushed my agile management buttons.

1. 1992 was a hard year for republicans, 1994 was a hard year for democrats.

2. Republicans are having a hard time right now because the American people's priorities are shifting.

When parties are elected, their own platforms and their own personal political biases suddenly take center stage. An assumption is made that the bulk of the American population actually voted specifically for those ideas.

Specifically - a spec. They are seeing that the American people provided a spec and will be very upset if that spec isn't met on-time and on-budget. So the party-of-current-power goes to town on their spec, escalates some issues, de-escalates others, and starts pushing things through.

As time goes by, people start to notice that the non-spec things aren't being done and they get mad.

They key here is that the American people never voted for a spec! They were given two huge pre-defined feature sets and asked to choose one. So they did. And often those feature sets were highly masked by the machine of partisan politics.

The American people didn't have the luxury of re-defining the feature sets, actually setting priorities, or modeling the end-product.

So when we say "the American people's priorities are shifting", we are assuming that we ever knew what they were in the first place.

Agile management assumes from the outset that priorities will indeed shift. That the only two things certain in life are death and shifting priorities. Agile also assumes that priorities not only shift because of changing conditions, but due to the root fact that often we don't really know what we want or need.

Society appears to be migrating toward higher values of participation, cooperation, and exchange of information. As these trends continue, people will likely become increasingly frustrated with partisan politics which values none of this.

Note: This isn't meant to slam Rob. He was always great to work with and I even voted for him.

Jim, A couple of questions:

Jim,

A couple of questions: First, can you give the 25 word summary of "agile management" for those of us who don't know the lingo? Second, a similar request for "waterfall methodology"?

My other thought has to do with the aptness of the metaphor of voters choosing a spec or a feature set. I think that vastly overrates the cognitive and conceptual involvement of the mass of the electorate. For the majority of our generally anti-intellectual land Democrat v Republican is, arguably, more akin to Coke v Pepsi than to anything as legitimate as "feature set A" versus "feature set B". I _think_ your post is making a similar critique of thoughts expressed by McKenna.

And, not for nothing, but could it be deemed a little disingenuous to say the GOP is on the ropes because the public agenda has changed when there is a colorable alternative description which says the GOP is on the ropes because the public is beginning to suspect they were sold a pig in a poke when they bought the line about WMDs in Iraq and other Big GOP Lies(tm)?