Agile in China: Moving away from the factory worker mentality

The Agile software development mindset requires agile team members to be treated as knowledge workers. In the Chinese context, this may be harder than you think.

Rainy Day Solution, or the Low Cost of Labor

Umbrella Seller in Shanghai Subway Exit

Umbrella Seller in Shanghai Subway Exit

Chinese developers have realatively lower pay than the US. A good developer in Shanghai makes less than half, sometimes a third, of her Boston counterpart. General labor is even cheaper. Let me illustrate with an example:

What do you do when you are caught without an umbrella on your way to work? In Shanghai an Unbrella seller will pop up at each exit. We even joke that we can who is an organized person by looking at people's umbrella at the office. The subway exit umbrellas often have recognizable prints.

In Hong Kong you will not find such vendors. instead you will see umbrella vending machines that accept payment by the HK Octopus card, a stored value smartcard that can be used on public transits, convinent stores and more. The Octopus card is a internationally famous successful technology project.

Hong Kong Subway Unbrella Vending Machine

Hong Kong Subway Unbrella Vending Machine


Overtime Mentality

In many companies overtime ( 加班 ) is not only expected, but budgeted. Often developers are paid for their scheduled overtime. "Work more hours" is the standard answer to any problems. Reminding the reader of the classics, The Mythical Man-Month and Brooke's law: "Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later". Factory work with interchangable workers doing manual work may benefit from overtime. But software development does not.

What to do?

A good agile team needs each team member to take personal responsibility of the work. To prepare for that, management need to respect each team member. Acknowledge each member as a knowledge worker, who needs time to think, and time to recover. This may not be a welcomed idea to traditional bosses, but it must be done.