Agility Column

Searching for god uncovers Agile community's passion

Jan Stafford, Executive Editor

I had a Miss Emily Litella moment recently during a phone conversation with a software engineer. (Emily was a Gilda Radner character on Saturday Night Live.) Anyway, the software pro was praising an Agile coach, but couldn't recall the consultant's name. "Everyone knows him," I heard the engineer say. "He's called the Agile god."

Jan StaffordJan Stafford

I thought about that for a few seconds and then said to the software pro, "I know of many Agile gurus, but I don't know of an Agile god." He still couldn't remember the consultant's name and, after conversing more about his work with Agile, we rang off.

The rest of the day, the mysterious identity of the Agile god was on my mind. I finally popped that keyword phrase into Google search and fell down the search-engine rabbit hole of the Agile community.

I first encountered a LinkedIn post by software test manager Dion Judge, which asked what question his peers would ask of an Agile god. Some commenters thought atheism was a better fit for Agile; but cooler heads likened Agile to Unitarian Universalism, as both models seek truth and are flexible about the means of getting to it. The final commenter accused Agile followers of magical thinking, saying that Agile's promised shorter development cycles are an illusion. In his view, Agile development means "act and then think."

After covering development for years, I've seen that Agile has helped some teams shorten development cycles. Their best practice is stellar sprint estimation, or -- as my granny put it -- not biting off more than you can chew. I've also heard about Agile project failures, largely the result of misunderstanding Agile practices or trying to make it fit where it doesn't.

None of the comments gave me a lead on the consultant called the Agile god, however.

Next, I was surprised to find an Agile atheism search results page, populated by a mix of blogs by Agile detractors. The first link took me to a blog by an atheist who happened to be a developer. All of this was interesting, but no help toward reaching my goal.

On Tumblr, a post noted that the Christian story of creation looks a lot like waterfall development. It would have been a lot easier on God to practice Agile development, starting creation with a single-cell life form and moving up from there. Iterative creation would have allowed for getting rid of mistakes, perhaps by making a meteorite hit the earth to destroy large-bodied, tiny-brained beings. In its subtlety, the post doesn't spell out that iterative development and evolution are similar processes, but I got it. The post doesn't answer its title question, "Is God an Agile developer?" Also, I didn't get any clue about who the real Agile god is.

Another link on my search page led me to developer James Betteley's promise that developers could achieve "God-like status" if they followed his three easy steps to Agile. The three steps are sound, if not surprising. Betteley recommends gathering business requirements first, then prioritizing projects unburdened with technical debt at the outset and using Scrum, and creating and using continuous improvement practices.

In his article, Betteley recommended using Mike Cohn's book about Scrum, Succeeding with Agile, as a development guidebook. I'd found referrals to this tome often in this search; one being William Gill's amusing post, 5 reasons Agile is like a cult. Cohn's book is listed under this reason: "You will respect the sacred parchment."

Cohn himself has been and is successful within the Agile community and is a widely respected Agile practitioner, consultant, speaker and, obviously, author. Nowhere, however, is he referred to as an Agile god.

Gill's is one of several pieces I found about the so-called cult of Agile. Reading them reminded me of the early 2000s, when Linux and open source were my main beat. Like Linux, Agile is an IT movement that has spurred passion -- pro and con -- and evangelism. Like Agile, Linux, too, had its detractors who called Linux a cult.

I recall the huge brouhaha following Kenneth Brown's 2004 claim that Linus Torvalds did not write the source code for Linux. Accusations flew to the point of absurdity, so I wrote a piece saying that I wrote Linux. With tongues firmly in their cheeks, several other developers sent articles to SearchEnterpriseLinux saying they wrote Linux.

I pulled myself away from my trip down memory lane and called off the search for the consultant known as the Agile god. Going back to the source, I asked the software engineer in an email if he remembered the name of that consultant who'd been such a great help. He replied, saying that he'd said, "AgileDad," not "Agile god," and the AgileDad is Lee Henson.

As Emily Litella would say, "Never mind."
 

What about you? If there was an Agile god, what would you ask? What other Agile gurus did we forget to mention? Let us know publicly in the comments below or privately via email.

This was first published in November 2013

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