Is Twitter Still A Good Thing For The Agile Community?

The rush I felt as I walked into the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta in July 2016 is still fresh on my mind. The yearly Agile Alliance conference was about to start and I was walking in as a speaker for the first time. Some big names in the industry were for sure going to be there and I had no idea what I was going to say to them.

It was my first year of speaking outside of my company and local meetings in Dallas so you can imagine I had sort of a wide-eyed naivety. Would anyone show up for my session? How would it be received overall? These questions and more were constantly flowing through my head as I walked the floor. Crossing by my path was the wonderful and extremely midwestern Esther Derby.

The person she was speaking to was about to walk away and I wanted to introduce myself. Having exchanged a few tweets recently, but never met in person, I thought all that was necessary was to shake her hand and thank her for the work she does. Simple, polite, but not overbearing.

As I walked up and said hello she looked at my name badge and then to me and stated, “what happened to all your hair, Chris?” My avatar picture at the time had a full head of hair on me. My jaw hit the floor.

She remembered who I was?

Now, those that know Esther will say she’s just like that and I shouldn’t be surprised she pays attention to her audience well. There wasn’t necessarily anything special about our interactions but through the online platform, Twitter had allowed a professional connection that I’m happy to say still exists.

When I speak to colleges at conferences, many have similar stories. Responding to a tweet, commenting on a blog post, or asking a question allows aspiring agilists to connect with some of the more well-known names in the community. As our little corner of the world keeps growing though, in addition to the current social media climate in general, I’ve been tossing an idea around.

Is Twitter still a good thing for the Agile community?

Rather than shoot my mouth off, I conducted a little research and ran a poll on the topic. Here’s what I found on this unique but potentially dangerous tool for our work.

Easiest Way To Keep Informed

Let’s discuss the benefits because there are still a ton. Twitter is still the easiest way to know what’s trending in the community from an information standpoint. You can curate your feed to include the people you trust and want to hear from, and what they are currently working on. Some of the freshest ideas I get for my clients comes from that app.

If you don’t follow Matt Barcomb, John Cutler, Allison Pollard, or Jason Little…you would do well to pay attention to their tweets.

So many more people I respect use Twitter quite a bit, but those accounts consistently produce content I support and believe in. Honestly, with how prolific he is, I’m not sure how Cutler gets anything else done on a daily basis.

If there’s a topic you’re trying to learn more about, there are few ways to easily locate quality content better than Twitter. My friend Tim Nolan put it best to me when he said:

“Most of my Agile research is from Twitter,” Tim said.

If you can’t attend a conference, all you have to do is follow the recognized hashtag for the event and it will seem like you’re there with the rest of us. Before I started attending the Agile Alliance conference, I just read the hashtag and took notes while I was at my desk. My boss asked me in 2015 if I had snuck off to attend with all the good bits of info I passed along.

You can also validate your own observations in a rapid fashion. One training class, an attendee asked me a question I was unsure of the answer. I asked if I could get back to him and tossed the question out on Twitter. Before we hit the first break, I already had a satisfactory answer.

It Can Also Be A Dangerous Place

Granted, all this information sharing carries with it several caveats. How in the world are we to take any of the information at face value? It’s one thing to be supportive or retweet common thoughts, but another altogether if the topic wanders into a gray area. Which brings to mind the problem with social media in general in 2018.

As the “Agile community” grows in size, the more divisive we seem to be to each other online.

There was a dust-up between Mike Beedle and Joshua Kerievsky on the topic of certifications last year that got super toxic. A few comments spiraled from certs to other topics the two are intimately involved in.

It became so divisive that after discussing it on a podcast with a buddy, we decided to cut it out because we didn’t want to seem to support one side over the other. These are two well-respected people in the community that just had a difference of opinion, but it got out of hand.

Same can be said for many of the things I’ve noticed on many accounts in the past year. Individuals who have done some amazing work make comments I just really can’t support. Which brings up the idea that some of us are “doing it right” and others aren’t. I don’t think it’s my right to say someone is or isn’t doing their work correctly, but that’s how many tweets are received today.

There are a dozen reasons why innocent tweets come across wrong, but a single post can do damage to reputation and one’s career today. I don’t know of anyone who has lost out on a gig due to a tweet, but I do know that the comments made on the platform have caused some to look sideways at others.

In the end, the topic of exploring vs. explaining is a great way to consider the tweet. An account named Archimage said it best:

“Exploring assumes you want to discover something new or what you are looking for. Explaining assumes you understand the process.”

When you read tweets through that view, do you see things differently?

Should We Keep Using Twitter?

Overall, the poll I conducted had a positive view of the platform in the Agile community. It’s still an amazing way to have a two-way conversation with people you want to connect with. It’s still a valuable resource for my work and honestly, I have people I consider great friends who know the best way to reach me my mentions.

I know. I’m probably too tied to the platform at this point, aren’t I?

So what do we do with the toxic nature of conversation at times? I found the community incredibly welcoming when I first started including the hashtag #agile in my posts. Is that still the case? Susan Almon isn’t so sure:

“If I was new here and didn’t know anyone, I wouldn’t stay,” Almon said.

Ouch.

That comment confirmed some of the things I’ve thought before. However, it would be just as toxic for me to judge the community by our online conversation alone. Just because someone signed the Manifesto doesn’t mean every tweet has to be something I agree with.

I’ve met and appreciated so much of Ron Jeffries work has done for the community. However, I could not agree less with his post on social justice (the post has disappeared but this twitter thread references it). Does that negate the rest of his work? Absolutely not, so I can let him have his personal thoughts while still telling everyone to read his post on Dark Scrum.

It’s easy to take a tweet or blog post the wrong way today. By viewing the content through my own bias filter I can take anything to say anything I want. That divisive approach will make the hashtag mean less and less every day. Hell, social media could be the eventual downfall of the Agile movement.

In the same comment from Susan, I think the solution is tucked in there:

“There are many people I know and trust so I can filter out the arguing,” she said. “Following lots of women helps.”

Are you following a diverse audience in the community? If you’re hardcore about Scrum, are you keeping up with the Kanban, Lean, and Scaling fans? For you SAFe leaders, have you followed people who think some things can’t scale? What about the women and minorities in the community? If you’re interested, here’s a list of some of the amazing women in our industry.

Seeing diverse ideas refines our own, and also helps us understand other valid perspectives are out there.

What’s your current take on the online “Agile community”? How can we be inclusive and innovative in 2018?

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