Agile as a full-featured religious dogma (2016)

Agile as a full-featured religious dogma (2016)

Agile is the new Object-orientation, the universal buzzword that colors everything, people, project, processes and products alike. It is what all software development organizations go for, claim to be, aim at, to be part of the trend, to be part of the tribe.

What Agile actually is remains vague, even more so than Object Orientation ever was, and that’s no simple feat. Calling it unspecific things like a movement does not help.

But this is just superfluous frilosité. After careful analysis of the facts, one can safely claim that Agile has all the attributes of established (or not so established) religions.

It starts with a founding event. In February 2001, the 17 Apostles (Ok, they were just software developers, but you get the – holy – spirit) met at the Snowbird resort in Utah and came up with a Manifesto, made of twelve principles. If you ask me, they should have named their thing Moses 2.0 to pay their respects to the history of divine truths given to mankind, but that may just be a sarcastic bias of mine.

The Manifesto has been given Biblical virtues. It is revered. It is repeated, chanted, sung in psalmody (Sarcasm again). It is printed on motivational posters, to be seen on the way to the coffee machine and back (Amazingly enough, no sarcasm here. Plain true).

And then, there is terminology. All dogmatic efforts, whether they are political, religious or organizational (think of Freudian or Lacanian psychoanalysis, for instance) introduce a jargon that embodies the cult. Words become ritual objects in their own right, and bigots pay their due by using them profusely. Sprints, Scrums, Architectural Epics, Kanban, Moscow, colocation, Burndown chart, the list is endless.

Agility also has its zealots, grouped in ever more nuanced sub-cults, accusing each other of not being pure enough, each claiming to better impersonate Agility, each fighting to be a more authentic Agile practitioner. Those who want to take the gospel to the next level can then be promoted from plain Agile zealot to Scrum Master after an obscure elicitation process (Terminology again: I write compilers for a living. Yet, I don’t call myself a compiler master, savior, warrior nor acrobat. Being a compiler engineer is enough of an ambition to satisfy my ego).

There are rites, things you do, just because. Like meeting standing up every morning. There are also ritual objects, like the task board, or card games to play Planning Poker.

I could keep on with this list for a while, but this is only folklore. One could criticize me for ranting about the excessive use of metaphors, and then publish a full paper based on a simile even if these similarities, when lined up, are pretty striking.

Much more annoying than folklore is the unquestionable, almost religious, respect the Agile word now commands. Agility has become infallible in the most papal sense.

Whenever an Agile project fails, it is always blamed on not applying it well, or not enough. Agile as such can epistemologically no longer be questioned, since it (supposedly) works for the believers. Those for whom it fails have no one to blame but their faithless selves. In this way, the Agile world does not meet the most elementary level of Karl Popper’s falsifiability criterion for true science: there must be a way of proving it wrong, and all attempts at doing so must have failed. By design, the Agile gibberish deflects and invalidates any attempt at demonstrating how it can be anything but the sole adequate solution for software development projects.

This is not science or technology. It is dogma.

PS: As a perfect (and admittedly extreme) example of this trend of everything turning Agile, believe it or not, there is now such a thing as Agile Christianity.  The Agile world moves in mysterious ways indeed.

PPS: I am not alone when observing the increasingly dogmatic approach to Agile. There is an excellent blog entry by Franco Martinig that makes a very similar point, and another, even more colorful contribution by Sebastian Gebski.

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