Is This Chaos Ok?


So this brings me to the two things about chaos that I like to share with my new teams. These views of chaos are both from Rob Brezsny's book on optimism titled Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings, which is a great book full of interesting and upbeat information and stories.

The first chaos item is simply a quote about chaos: "Chaos comes in two varieties. One is destructive and disorienting; the other is rejuvenating and exciting."

Agile's chaos is the latter form! Those who are involved in the iteration planning meeting discussions are typically energized and enthused by the activity, and this feeling carries forward throughout the iteration. As a team leader or project manager, be on the lookout for the former version of chaos. If you observe the destructive and disorienting kind of chaos in your team, this is likely the result of missing or improperly applied agile disciplines, principles, or values.

The other item about chaos is a story about the ability to go on a wild ride, have fun, and still maintain balance. The story is called "careen-stable," a variant on chaos. Here's Rebecca Rusche—again from Brezsny's book—to tell you of the term's origin:

"In high school, my mom used to let me use her VW Beetle to go to basketball practice. One night after practice, a friend and I were chatting and drinking Coke when we decided to see how fast we could get the Beetle going down a nearby dirt road. Soon we were careening at 65 mph, shouting 'careen!' every time we hit a bump and went flying into the air. When we arrived back at the gym and got out of the car half an hour later, we saw my Coke can sitting on the front bumper next to the license plate. I nudged it softly to see if it was lodged in there somehow, but it fell right off—wasn't stuck at all. I thought, 'There must be a word for this magic,' and thus 'careen-stable' was born. It came to mean anything that maintains its poise in the midst of wild, fast movement."

So, to answer the project manager's earlier questions—"Is it okay? Are you sure?"—I can respond with a resounding "Yes!" Agile approaches provide a framework to contain, focus, and direct this chaos, and lively discussions are part and parcel of the whole. Encourage this fully participative approach to planning and problem solving, and you'll see what a great difference a little bit of chaos can provide!

About the author

Michele Sliger's picture Michele Sliger

Michele Sliger has extensive experience in agile software development, having worked in both XP and Scrum teams before becoming a consultant. As a self-described "bridge builder," her passion lies in helping those in traditional software development environments cross the bridge to agility. Along with co-author Stacia Broderick, their book The Software Project Manager's Bridge to Agility focuses on the topic, helping PMI-trained project managers make the transition. Michele is a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) and a certified Project Management Professional (PMP). If you have a question, or would like help with your agile adoption, Michele can be reached at

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