Agile and Assholes: Part 1

Assholes are the scourge of Agility. – Fighting Chicken

I know, bold statement. Assholes are annoying, but are they really a scourge? How often do the paths of Agility and assholes cross? When Agility and assholes encroach on a single point within space and time, what will happen and what can I do about it? So many questions. Luckily, I am an expert in Agile—and in being an asshole.


I have been a practitioner of the Agile methodologies since the early days. I try to be true to the values and principles espoused in the manifesto and I evangelize Agility and the accompanying mindset and culture as ingredients of modern process best practice.

I am also a recovering asshole. The first step was admitting I had a problem. Giving up being an asshole has been a long journey. I occasionally feel myself slipping into old habits, but with the support of my family, friends, and colleagues I have been able to stay strong.

Profile of an Asshole

They go by many names: jerk, bully, tyrant. Back in the pre-Agile days, there were so many assholes that there was a letter grading system to help categorize them all. As a child I recall conversations and remarks referencing “Grade-A” assholes – I image these guys were top-self. In the U.K. they go by arsehole and the secretive hacker underground call them a55h013. Even the seldom contacted San Bushmen People of the Kalahari Desert who communicate with a “click language” refer to them as {click-click-tongue pop-ASSHOLE}. Regardless of your culture, country of origin, or positioning on the gender spectrum most of us know who the asshole is—it’s that guy.

Merriam-Webster defines asshole in this particular context as:

noun | ass·hole | \ ˈas-ˌ(h)ōl \

usually vulgar : a stupid, annoying, or detestable person

According to the popular book The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton there are two tests for recognition of the asshole in the workplace:

  1. After encountering the person, do people feel oppressed, humiliated or otherwise worse about themselves?
  2. Does the person target people who are less powerful than him/her?

Most of us know who the asshole is 60 seconds after encountering them. But, misclassifying someone as an asshole is a total asshole move and careful consideration should be given to avoid any reckless profiling. Watch the suspected asshole carefully and look for these behaviors:

  • Belittle processes, paradigms, and technologies that make them uncomfortable.
  • Criticize and insult people in their absence.
  • Coerce individuals to act and operate in a way to satisfy some selfish agenda.
  • Manipulate those in authority to allow or tolerate the asshole’s activities.
  • Avoid any confrontation pertaining their assholishness.

Now that we know how to identify these so-called assholes and their tell-tail behaviors we have them beat, right? You may already be thinking “hey I think that guy Joe-Bob is an asshole – let’s get him!”. I like this kind of enthusiasm, but we shouldn’t underestimate the asshole. They are a difficult impediment to remove and we should know more about them before acting.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In “Agile and Assholes: Part 2” I’ll discuss the types of assholes impacting Agility and the environments where they thrive.