Why we don’t have negative experience reports at agile conferences.

Last year at a number of agile conferences I had similar conversations were I wondered why we had so little negative experience reports at agile conferences.

I know that there are agile projects that are failing. I’m convinced that when you do an agile project, you will see problems earlier. Some companies might decide at that moment that the problems are too high and stop the project. Ok that is debatable if that is negative agile experience.

I also know some companies that don’t get the agile way of working or can’t handle the visibility. Or agile isn’t the right tool for that project.

Why don’t we see these in experience reports?

Instead of complaining, I decided to do such a report myself. So this year for the XP Days Benelux conference I had a proposal about a project I worked on that did not so well.

Writing the session description worked pretty well. Finding some people to help me out with the talk, that was also not a problem. And then came the time I wanted to work on the session. I chewed on my session for about a month, actually it felt more like I chocked on it. Mmm, strange. Something was blocking me. I could not figure out where I was blocking myself. So one day I decide to ask my coach for help, on my next appointment.

That same evening I had a big argument with my partner. As this always is when I’m chocking on something, I suddenly saw a link between this argument and my block.

The exact argument with my wife was not important (is it ever?) In the retrospective we had later that evening (yes we do a debrief of our arguments from time to time) she made me realize I was always talking positive about ex-partners. If it are business-partners or ex-lovers, I keep talking positive about them even when we don’t see each other anymore.

Now let’s be clear, there is a reason why I don’t work together anymore with certain companies. And with these ex-lovers, we did split up because we realized we were not compatible. And while I’m still in that situation, I will rant about these people too my close friends as much as the next girl/guy.

Once I moved on, I will not say negative things about that person anymore. Certainly not in public.
When I was giving .Net training, I did use examples of spaghetti code or other non clean code, I never mentioned the name of the company, project or developer. (I did not see the point, it would not make my point any clearer.)

So that evening I realized that is exactly why I could not do my session about that former client. Even if I would translated it to everything I learned, or to things I was not able to do, (as a great coach was suggesting me) it was still blocking me.
Now that is an interesting to learn about myself. So I will definitely look into that with a coach. At this moment I’m not sure when I want to do that. (Oh that is exactly why I should do it now, yes I hear you coaches…) Now I’m not writing this to forcing myself to work on that, I’m writing this because during lunch with another great coach, I realized this is exactly why we don’t see these kind of reports at our conferences.
The coaches in our community value respect for people very high.

So I’m suspecting that is why our community only talks about the good projects.

Yes I know agile coaches talk among themselves about the negative experiences. And JB has a great session about his 10 biggest mistakes. That is not about one project or one client. And he is bringing it from his mistakes. I think that is the only way we will ever see negative experience reports.
Oh and my session, I changed it to a general session about retrospectives, because I realized that was where I made my biggest mistakes on that project.

At last weeks XP Benelux event, when I talked briefly about this with Jef and Peter, they told me that maybe we don’t need these negative reports.

Although I understand, I’m not 100% happy with it.
The reason why I’m not happy with it, is that the anti-agile crowd does not believe the always positive vibe there is in the agile community. And what is more, I hear negative stories about agile that are coming from outside our community. And it’s ok that they tell them when they understand agile. I don’t like it when they blame something on agile, when it is really the company that can’t handle the truth that agile brings out.

I’ll end with an ask for help, do you recognize this, is this a reason why you would not do a negative experience report? Am I missing something?