Agile: Resistance is Futile


Ok I am still catching up on all my blogs from the two ten day periods I was not around for. I found a real gem on Michael Stal’s blog entitled Agility and the Borgs where he begins to analyze the process model of the borgs. I have to admit that growing up I watched TNG all the time which might be what made this post so interesting.

It seems as if the queen is in charge of providing central goals but Borgs are able to achieve these goals by any means they consider appropriate. For now, we recognize that Borgs use communication and interaction, share their knowledge with each other, can interoperate independently as groups but not as individuals, continuously share their knowledge and abilities, strive for common code ownership.

Does this sound oddly familiar; it is at the least an interesting thought. While seeing this, I remembered a paper by Anders Sandberg I had read discussing in some depth how such organisms would work.  One of the key points that are hit on is communication within the borganism.

Communication is central to borganisation. By definition the units making up a borganism will be in close mental contact; the bandwidth and structure of this contact will determine much of the properties of the borganism.

Could we also say that many of the properties of an agile team are directly derived from the bandwidth and structure of its communications? Another point that Anders discusses that we can probably learn a lot from deals with Group Think.

Groupthink is a common problem in human groups: the group becomes divorced from reality due to its internal consensus (which may even be illusory); it fails to question its own assumptions and to take unwelcome aspects of reality into account. If the borganism has to keep its units in line, it is likely it will directly or indirectly counteract dissent, which may promote groupthink. Often the best way of avoiding groupthink is to allow dissenting minorities to present their view. On the other hand, borganisms with sufficiently high bandwidth may be less susceptible to groupthink than human groups. If the units can present not only their views but the mental processes which reached these views it may become easier to judge the relative merit of the different positions. They are no longer assertions about reality but rather different models which can be analysed using critical thinking, empirical testing or synthesis.

This is a very common problem on software teams where the entire team has become deluded into thinking that they are in fact producing best software that they can. Agile teams often have less problems with this as there is much higher communication amoungst the team members. This also bolsters the commonly held belief that it is important to let minorities debate their beliefs (to a limit) within the team in order to help promote code ownership.

Another thought deals with assimilation, do we as agilists when seeking new members not look for units who introduce new areas of knowledge in hopes that they will be assimilated into the team thus spreading the knowledge to the other units?

Perhaps it is in fact agility which is is the underlying borg belief. When we look at their common saying it sure sounds agile.

“We are the Borg. Lower your shields and power down your weapons. You will be assimilated. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile.”

They do however not always sound agile as can be seen in their other common hail

“We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”

Perhaps the addition of the queen made them no longer agile? The major point of contention between the models in that all borgs are subservient to a single ruler whereas an agile structure would promote something more akin to an Island Model. Obviously in the case of following a single ruler the borganism would run into to scalability issues either due to a bottleneck created by the ruler or in communication to and from the ruler. Wikipedia had a great quote discussing some of the borg scalability issues.

The hive mind, however, has its limitations. In every Borg episode, Borg drones react so slowly to incursions that they often don’t respond to an enemy soldier until he actually destroys something or attacks somebody. In Q Who, the cube just sat there trying to decide what to do, waiting for so long that the Enterprise’s crew was able to hold its own meetings, decide what to do, and then explore the Borg ship! In fact, the only time that we ever saw the Borg react and move quickly was “Descent”, when they were not part of a collective. This is due to the inefficiencies of the hive mind and other similar symmetric multi-processing systems. (SMP while being great at some tasks unfortunately introduces extra overhead as a side effect; the inability of trillions of minds to equal Voyager’s holo-doctor shows every indication that they have reached and then surpassed a scalability limit, thus explaining why they react so slowly).

hmm … what would happen if the borg were not part of the collective but instead part of the distinct groups as in “Descent”? Could the collective be agility gone wrong?

Can we learn something from analyzing the borg?



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