Our Industry Needs Chemo Therapy

Erik Meijer in his talk (warning, maybe nsfw because of language) from the Reaktor Dev Day makes a case for why Agile/Scrum should be done away with and goes so far as to compare Agile and Scrum to a cancer.

The more I watch it, the more I love it! Please understand that I am not being snarky or sarcastic (although I end up being ironic) – what he says genuinely inspires me and gets me charged up to go out there and write great software, genuinely treat people well, and take more pride in the software I write. Software is eating the world after all.

Watching the video can be difficult because it is very inflammatory, but if you push through you can make the following observation:

Erik Meijer loves agility and hates when people keep developers from being agile.

I started this post by going through his video section by section and demonstrating how Erik’s prescriptions walk hand-in-hand with what the Agile Manifesto says, but that made for a very long post. Instead, I’ll simply challenge anyone who believes what Erik is saying to be correct to first read the Agile Manifesto, don’t forget to read the principles that are behind it, and then listen to his talk.

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that every prescription Meijer’s makes is directly supported by either the Agile Manifesto or the Scrum guide. Even his ad hominem attacks on people who haven’t written code in a while (though misguided) speak to the first assertion made by the Agile Manifesto:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.

That’s literally the first sentence! Turns out, Erik agrees (quite emphatically) with the sentiment framing the whole Agile Manifesto – that we uncover better ways of developing by actively developing.

As you watch more of his video, you might ask me, “If he is as misguided as you claim, why should I care to listen to what he has to say?” A major problem for agilistas is that they/we (not sure if I am one) too often exist in an echo chamber. Without exposure to or cooperation with those of different even fanatically different opinions, a person will become blind to existing or future problems in their way of doing things. This is one reason why a team of people need to regularly inspect themselves and even shake things up in order to make sure their practices are still healthy, to identify problems, and to determine how to improve.

We need a second opinion

Erik rightly demonstrates several symptoms plaguing our industry. When he rails against managers using Scrum and Agile to practice subtle control, he rightly calls out the abuse of a self-organizing team. When he decries companies that allow themselves to function like black boxes just taking input and producing output, he is calling for a Sprint Review. I could go on.

Where Erik gets it wrong is not in his diagnosis but in his prescription. Agility and Scrum are frequently co-opted, even commandeered by companies and individuals who do not understand software and who see it as a tool to accomplish their own goals. This is a cancerous development, since it is an otherwise healthy “tissue” becoming denatured then behaving against the best interest of the host and even of the cancerous cells themselves; however, the way to treat such dysfunction is not simply to cut out vital tissue wholesale i.e. eliminate Agile/Scrum completely but should rather be precise, gradual reclamation and rejuvenation of the affected tissue.

I love this video because Erik Meijer’s is calling for true agility.

I heard a story told once of a monk who was able to subject himself to river rapids such that he could successfully travel over a falls unharmed. When asked by another monk how he was able to do so, the sage monk said something to the effect that he traveled without fighting the current yet by slow, subtle movements steered his course through the perilous rocks. The observation being that if he had thrashed about trying to fight the overwhelming current, he would only have endangered himself and his goal of traveling the falls. The lesson is to prefer evolution over revolution.

We need to take back what is ours. Agility is vital. Though it be co-opted or commandeered, we cannot give it up for lost for if we do so, we give those who have perverted the term deed to it and risk a similar fate for any future word, phrase or hash tag we use as our banner in the future.

Our industry needs chemo therapy, not shotgun surgery.

jknight

Jason is a developer, Scrum Master, writer, teacher, coach, husband, father, and community leader out of Tulsa Oklahoma. He's been delivering software since 2007 and absolutely loves the values and principles of agility especially as given form by the Scrum framework.