benjiPosted under XP.

Extreme Programming describes five values: communication, feedback, simplicity, courage, and respect. I think that humility might be more important than all of these. 

Humility enables compassion. Compassion both provides motivation for and maximises the return on technical practices. Humility pairs well with courage, helps us keep things simple, and makes feedback valuable.

Humility enables Compassion 

Humility helps you respect the people you’re working with and see what they bring. We can’t genuinely respect them if we’re feeling superior; if we think we have all the answers. 

If we have compassion for our teammates (and ourselves) we will desire to minimise their suffering. 

We will want to avoid inflicting difficult merges on anyone. We will want to avoid wasting their time, or forcing them to re-work; having been surprised by our changes. The practice of Continuous Integration can come from the desire to minimise suffering in this way.

We will want those who come after us in the future to be able to understand our work—understand the important behaviour and decisions we made. We’ll want them to have the best safety net possible. Tests and living documentation such as ADRs can come from this desire. 

We’d desire the next person to have the easiest possible job to change or build upon what we’ve started, regardless of their skill and knowledge. Simplicity and YAGNI can come from this desire.

Humility and compassion can drive us to be curious: what are the coding and working styles and preferences of our team mates? What’s the best way to collaborate to maximise my colleagues’ effectiveness?

Without compassion we might write code that is easiest for ourselves to understand—using our preferred idioms and style without regard for how capable the rest of the team is to engage with it.

Without humility our code might show off our cleverness.

Humility to keep things simple 

To embrace simplicity we have to admit that we might be wrong about what we’ll need in the future.

Humility helps us acknowledge that we will find this harder and harder to maintain in the future. Even if we’re still part of the team. We all have limited capacity to deal with complexity.

We need humility to realise we will likely be wrong about what we’ll need in the future. We’ll have courage to try to predict our direction, but strive for the simplest possible code to support what we have now. This will make it easier for whomever must change it when we realise how we’re wrong. 

Humility to value feedback

To value feedback we have to admit that we might be wrong

Why pair program if you already know what is best and have nothing to learn from others? They’ll just slow you down!

Why talk with the customer regularly to understand their needs. We’re the experts!

Why do user testing, anybody could use this!

So many tech practices are about getting feedback fast so we can iterate on code, on product, and on our team ways of working. Humility helps us accept that we can be better.

Letting design emerge from the tests with TDD requires the humility to accept that we might not have the best design already in mind. We can’t have foreseen all the interactions with the rest of the code and necessary behaviours.

Humility maximises blamelessness and learning opportunities. We talk about blameless post incident reviews and retrospectives: focusing on understanding and learning from things that happen. Even if we don’t outwardly blame those involved it’s easy to feel slightly superior: that there’s no way we would have made the mistake that triggered the incident. A humble participant would have more compassion for those involved. A humble participant would see that they are themselves part of the system of people that has resulted in this outcome. There is always something to learn about the consequences of our own actions and inactions.

Humility pairs well with Courage

Courage is not overconfidence. Courage is not fearlessness. Courage is being able to do something even though it might be hard or scary.

With humility we know we are fallible and may be wrong. We courageously seek out feedback to learn as early as possible.

Deploying changes to production always carries certain risk; even with safety nets like tests and canary deploys. (Delaying deploys creates even more risk).

An overconfident person might avoid deploying to production until they’re finished with a large chunk of work. After all, they know what they’re doing! Figuring out how to break it down into separately deployable chunks will take more time and be inefficient.

A fearless person might fire and forget changes into production. This is a safe change after all. Click deploy; go to the pub!

A humble person on the other hand understands they’re working with a complex system; bigger than they can fit in their head. They understand that they can’t be certain of the results of their change, no matter the precautions they’ve taken. Having courage to deploy anyway. Acting to observe reality and find out whether their fallible prediction was correct. 

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