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Of Cajun Navy and Agile....

Like everyone, I’m shocked and dismayed as I read the news and social media posts about Hurricane Harvey’s destruction. Having grown up in Port Arthur, TX, the photos have rendered a once-familiar place sadly unrecognizable. In the midst of all the terrible news, it’s been somewhat encouraging reading so many stories of heroism and courage, and interestingly, these have come mostly in the form of neighbors helping neighbors. One amazing source of stories is from the all-volunteer Cajun Navy, whose members, since Katrina, have arrived to the scene with their bass boats, hunting boats, airboats, and pirots to bring their neighbors to dry land.  You can read more about them here in The Cajun Navy: 5 Fast Facts you Need to Know

In 2016, Louisiana lawmakers attempted to require training for members of the Cajun Navy, as well as certificates and permits for them to operate. “How can you regulate people helping people? That doesn’t make sense to me,” said Dustin Clouatre, a Cajun Navy member from St. Amant, Louisiana. 

This really struck a chord with me. How can the government impose regulations on an entity born of a spirit of generosity? It was this spirit that formed a thought, a thought that formed a movement, and a movement that has ultimately saved lives (The Cajun Navy showed up before FEMA in the 2016 Baton Rouge floods!). So what if there is no official certificate of operation? So what if their boats don’t match. And maybe there are no pre-flight checklists or standard protocols for filling gas tanks. Or standardized eight-hour shifts with required breaks. I’m being a bit sarcastic, but really, who cares? The Cajun Navy has saved lives. They are fulfilling their mission, their movement, in the best way they see fit. I find this to be one of the best examples of self-organization – an entity born of urgency and a call to purpose. Government, with all of its rules, fees, taxes, and incumbents, will ultimately burden any system with so much policy and bureaucracy that the initial spirit will succumb to the politico and the next round of funding. Mr. Clouatre, your brilliant question answers itself.

Of course, being an agile mentor, my brain immediately draws parallels to some terrible “agile” I’ve observed lately. First of all, for those of you not in the know: agile is not a methodology. It is a spirit. It is a way of being. The Agile Manifesto describes a set of values and principles, and does not, anywhere, define steps in a process. Along came some pretty big and bloated frameworks in the name of “agile” that attempted to regulate how people interact. Regulate future planning in big batch fashion. Regulate how dependencies are managed. Regulate a hierarchy. A Product Manager of product owners of product owners. And an S5 of an S4 of an S3…. Not even inviting the people doing the work to have a say in how they do they work in the first place! And so forth. You know what happens when we try to regulate a spirit? It breaks the spirit of the people trying to do the work. The moment management imposes deadlines and death marches under the agile banner, we have taken away the promise of agile for the everyday developer: empowerment, creativity, self-direction, and personal boundaries, among others. Ironically, these very things lead to the high performance management wants in the first place. The lack of care for people in these environments makes me physically ill.

How can you regulate people helping people? You can’t. All you can do is simply help them discover their purpose and get out of their way as they find the best way to meet that purpose.  If you do anything, anything at all, clear the path. Agile coaches, take a page from the Cajun Navy’s playbook. 

You can read more about the Cajun Navy on their Facebook page and we continue to pray for and support the victims of Hurricane Harvey. 




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