By Dean Toovey

The agile manefesto starts powerfully with “people over process”. It doesn’t mean no process, but instead people are valued more highly than process. But what does that mean in practise?

I’ve been using the following analogy to explain how agile-thinking is influencing the process-centric ITIL framework, and pushing a “people-first” bias:

In my hometown, traffic lights run 24×7 at an intersection through the green-orange-red sequence. On occaision, I find myself very late at night or early in the morning waiting at a red light. There are no cars to be seen for miles in any direction. Yet I daren’t go through the red light. It’s illegal.

Now, I’ve seen other countries where after hours, traffic lights switch to flashing orange and act as a 4-way stop where drivers use their discretion to drive safely through.

But not in my country.

So I’m waiting at the lights thinking “Will I? Won’t I?” I’ve even heard stories of police cars waiting at notoriously slow lights and booking people who “break the law” and drive through the red light at 4AM in the morning on deserted streets.

This is “process over people”.

Despite the magnitude of difference between the intelligence of the average driver and a robotic red-orange-green lamp on a timer, the drivers dare not drive through the intersection. They are adhering to the policy. We even have enforcers willing to dish out punishment for breaching the policy, and possibly a perverse incentive scheme for those enforcers to write more tickets.

Moreover, if I went to our department of roads suggesting the flashing orange lights as an upgrade, someone would calculate the cost to reprogram every traffic light in my country, and to rewrite the road rules, and to communicate the changes to the nations drivers and the costs would no doubt be astronomical. And they answer would be “no”.

So I sit waiting: delayed potentially light-after-light travelling across town. My life ebbing a few minutes at a time in idleness, unable to use my own intelligence to adapt my driving to the empty roads versus the heavy traffic for which the lights work so well. And the weight of the road rules and system acts as inertia against any change.

This is the agile challenge to you.

Where has your human common sense been sacrificed on the alter of robotic efficiency, within your organisation? Within your life?

And how do you change this?

How do you create an evironment where common sense and the dignitiy of human existence trumps blindly following the rules, or sticking to wasteful norms?