The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

More on the Social Contract

with 3 comments

The posts A Social Contract for Agile and Additions to the Social Contract established the dire need to reconstitute the social contract at a time when software development and test jobs migrate off-shore in an unprecedented manner. As stated in the first of these two posts:

My sense in 2005 was that the social contract between employers and employees in the software industry was broken. Without a working social contract, the friction and antagonism can bring a system down. For example, in 1942 – the turning-point year of WWII – 833,000 days of coal mining were lost due to strikes in the British coal industry.

Colleague and friend Ryan Martens has just published an article on the subject in Dr. Dobb’s. Ryan examines the Agile Social Contact in the context of what it really takes to get Agile rolling. To quote him:

Can you see the simplicity of Agile Adoption when you apply appropriate commitment and structure? A truly effective Agile Social Contract that creates true trust and commitment requires clarity and discipline. With the transparency of a clearly communicated Agile Social Contract, you will establish a strong leadership mechanism that aligns all the stakeholders and teams within your Agile adoption. Of course Enterprise-scale agile adoptions take place in a larger context of the business and market. As Israel Gat stated in his personal Agile Social Contract, we cannot guarantee lifetime employment in this globally competitive world. But, by making a clear commitment to win-win agreements, we can change the conversation into a motivating one versus a de-motivating one. Don’t try to scale Agile without a real and personal commitment or without a clear rollout structure.

The fascinating thing to me is that Rally’s own social contract seems to have developed completely on its own. Best I know there had never been a conscious attempt to develop a social contract. Yet, the company is well-known for the strong affinity of its employees.

I will leave it Ryan to comment on this riddle…

Written by israelgat

October 27, 2009 at 3:26 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Israel,
    Thank you for the set-up. Your point is well made. At Rally, we have a very strong culture that hires and fires based on core values. As a result, we have a very explicit social contract with our employees. In large organizations, this can get lost or miss the needs of a specific portion of the organization.

    What you did with the social contract at BMC was masterful. As I have continued to work with even larger organizations where the move to agile is a transformation, this component has become paramount in dealing with dicey issues. Issues that include and not limited to: offshoring, outsourcing, aligning for value delivery, moving to more servant leadership models, emergent architecture, lean portfolio management and developer testing.

    At Rally, we built an organization aligned with these models and thus increasing agility at Rally does not require a contract with our employees. It is part of the entrepreneurial culture.

    Does that answer the question?


    Ryan Martens

    October 27, 2009 at 5:06 pm

  2. Yes, but…

    How did the culture (that led to the organic creation of the social contract) get formed?



    israel Gat

    October 28, 2009 at 8:10 am

  3. Israel,

    A number of our core values ( came from past companies that Tim and I did. (create your own reality, make-and-meet commitments, work life balance) A few came as I started Rally (Give Back, Theory-based decision making). And a few were proposed by employees and made into the culture through story-telling (respect).

    Many of these align very well with agile principles and beliefs. We make these stronger by appreciating people for these behaviors at company meetings, tell stories about them, evaluating new hires on them and evaluating year over year performance based on them.

    As Lou Gerstner said, “It took me more than 53 years to understand that culture isn’t just important, it is everything.” It issues from persistent, unrelenting, imaginative effort and constant maintenance.

    I do not know any other way to do it.


    Ryan Martens

    October 28, 2009 at 9:43 am

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