Agile development exposed as techie superstition

Try fast, frequent and frugal experiments instead


At DevOps-focused London conference Continuous Lifecycle* today, Linda Rising challenged the superstition of tech professionals, a group that ought to have some affinity for science.

Rising, a consultant, author and COO of The Hillside Group, asked for a show of hands from anyone doing some flavour of agile development. Up shot arms from most of the audience.

"How many looked at the randomized controlled studies that provided evidence that agile was better than your current process?" she asked.

No response.

"Nobody," she said. "At least you're honest, a rare quality these days, especially in US politics. There aren't any."

Pointing to the science pioneers like Isaac Newton, who is buried in Westminster Abbey, across the street from the conference venue, Rising observed that while we recognise science, we don't often practise it.

We know that evidence is not convincing [enough] for anyone, at any age...

"For those who call themselves technical people, this is a strange way to make decisions," she said.

Rising argued for orgs to incorporate more science in their decisions.

To effect change, Rising said organisations should establish a standard for fast, frequent, frugal experimentation.

"Frugal is important because of the sunk-cost fallacy," she said. "Once we've invested in anything, we're reluctant to give it up."

If you use care in framing your hypothesis and in designing your small, frequent tests, she suggested, your organisation will improve over time. And the organisational environment will move beyond endless discussions.

And at the same time, science is not enough. "We know that evidence is not convincing for anyone, at any age," she said.

Rising encouraged those exploring new ways of working to involve others, to tell stories about their small experiments. "That will convince people more than any kind of evidence," she said.

We're a superstitious lot after all. ®

*The conference was co-sponsored by Situation Publishing and Heise Medien


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