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Agile Software Development Needs to Die (And Everyone Knows It)

by | Mar 27, 2023 | Startups

Agile software development suffocates innovation to death.

I first began working in an agile way around 2015. I got a gig in a bank’s innovation lab and got bombarded with all this agile talk.

It sounded like a religion. Everyone got horny over it but no one could really explain it. It felt like that voice in your head you have when you’re crazy and you try to explain it to the therapist.

“Are those agile voices in the room with us right now?”

“Yes. Yes they are.”

An article by software developer Emmanuel Maggiori finally woke me up about agile. It was so good I shared it with all my old agile work colleagues.

Their reaction says it all. Agile needs to die (and we all know it).

Agile made the tech sector lazy

Emmanuel says he’s worked in tech for years but he’s almost never worked.

The salary he got is enough for most people to feel like they won the lottery. But it never sat well with him.

Sure, you can get paid a bucketload of money.

But if you’re learning nothing and become lazy as hell, is it worth it? In my case, no. 18 months ago I had a tech job in banking.

I had to work in an agile way every day. Worse, I had to help convert a non-agile workforce to the agile religion. They resisted in every way — as I now know they should have.

Emmanuel tells the story of how he worked for a big tech company for 18 whole months. He did only two weeks of work at full capacity. The rest of the time he sat around talking smack with his developer friends.

It’s called pretending to work.

It’s what many of us have done for an entire career because we’ve been trapped by these ridiculous frameworks, like agile, instead of being allowed to create. Performance culture is a thing.

Agile turns one’s career into a Hollywood performance.

Just go watch “day in the life” videos of tech employees on TikTok. These TiKTokers literally do nothing all day other than drink green smoothies and do clever product placements in return for honey money from advertisers.

Tribalism is what ruins humanity

The 2020 bat virus became a disaster because of tribalism.

The election that followed, where dumb-dumbs yelled “stop the steal,” is another example of tribalism. And the reason some people hate Twitter is because of tribalism too.

Well, in agile there are tribes and tribe leaders. It’s like the Avatar movie except with tech nerds like me who watch Star Wars after work.

Once you’re in a tribe you’re pitted against the other tribes in a form of Hunger Games. It’s as bad as it sounds.

If you ever question the agile-this-is-the-way Mandalorian BS, you’ll be taken for a coaching session by an “agile coach” aka therapist.

They will try to brainwash you and get the devil out of your head. And they’ll say “this is just how we work. Everyone works this way now in tech. Don’t you want to work in tech?”

(As if you want to give up your $500K plus stock options.)

The problem with all this tribalism is no one dares say what they think. Everyone ends up becoming a brainwashed sheep who’s walking towards the cliff to a certain death and doesn’t realize it.

If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that when you don’t have free speech there’s no innovation. Screw tribalism.

Polygamy and sleeping around are what produce true innovation.

The nanny police rules

If I had to sum up agile in one word it’d be this: rules.

Rules everywhere … as far as the eye can see. Don’t do this. Do this or else. Nope, look over here, not there. I often describe to my 4 month baby (as a joke) that’s she’s in baby prison.

She doesn’t get to make any decisions. She can’t leave the house. She can’t think. I choose what toys she gets. I choose when she gets to play — and how. And when she poops the room gets filled with parents and in-laws with flashing sirens who clean her butt for free and smile and say “cute!”

That’s what it’s like working in agile.

Adult babies everywhere. God help us all. I’m so glad I’m out of this way of working and can think freely again.

When there are too many rules imagination and creativity go out the door. That means all the buzzwords of disruption, innovation, and game-changing solutions disappear as well.

What that leaves you with is a high-paying job in an agile tech world where you go through a comfort crisis. And without creativity and imagination your life feels meaningless.

Without meaning we slowly die at 25 and get buried at 75.

Check-ins for the sake of check-ins (aka useless meetings in disguise)

In an agile world it’s all about teamwork.

“One team, one dream,” as they say. This means you’ve got to always look like you’re doing team things. Meetings are the easiest visual you can give a dictator leadership team who wants to stalk you so they can see progress.

Every day I used to have to attend stand-up meetings. This is where you give updates on what’s happening, even if all you did since the last meeting was write a few lines of code.

Doesn’t matter.

You had to show stuff — or make it up. So many of us made it up because software isn’t as simple as business people think.

Before I knew it, my entire calendar was full of agile “ceremonies” aka recurring meetings. These weren’t optional. If you were absent you were seen to be betraying the religion and to have practiced adultery.

So you end up showing up in person but not being there in spirit.

Trying to measure the unmeasurable

In agile you apply difficulty scores to tasks. It’s a bit like this…

How many centimeters is that skyscraper over there?

You have no clue. You’ve never built a skyscraper before. And they’re all different. As my grandpa used to say “How long is a freaking piece of string, Timbo?”

So you make a number up. Then your teammates spend the next 30 minutes debating meaningless difficulty scores that don’t produce finished software or solve a user’s problem. Nice.

Breaking down big tasks seems smart

I love to break down big tasks.

The problem with agile is a tendency to break tasks down into micro chunks. In one project, we had to do some user research on cafe owners. So our leaders forced us to take the whole team.

The software developers in the team had no clue how to cold call on a cafe and ask them questions.

Me and one other person could. So I had to run a training session to train the non-sales people to overcome their fear and talk to cafe owners.

Talk about a waste of time. This is agile. This is the way. Yay.

Thou shall always test every idea and feature with users

This comes from the corporate “customer first” BS we’ve all heard a million times. It bled into agile.

But like anything, humans find a way to evolve and get around even the toughest of agile rules. The most common thing I experienced was tech or business leaders skipping this crucial stage.

We’d build a feature for users but avoid talking to them because our bosses didn’t want them to tell us how to build it.

Or we’d do the exercise to tick a box but just phone it home and speak to, like, two people (they were often friends that we could brainwash to give any opinion we wanted).

This all leads to meta work

Emmanuel Maggiori says a lot of agile thinking leads to “meta work.”

It’s where much of the work is to discuss, plan, and talk about the work rather than DO the work. In his case, he never did any real work and just did box-ticking meta work.

I felt like that too. I worked in the tech area of a bank but felt like I hadn’t worked a day for 2.5 years.

As soon as a tech task got hard, we just had team coffee meetings and drowned our sorrows with soy milk lattes. Or we’d go for lunch at a fancy restaurant with some stranger and call it “user research.”

Real work gets you further in life than meta work.

Predictability in an unpredictable world

The point of all the meetings, check-ins, showcases and task difficulty scores is to create predictability.

The problem is the world is unpredictable. The key skill isn’t to make business outcomes certain. No. It’s for teams to work at hyper speed to keep up with all the changes — like AI’s complete takeover of everything.

Teams that move fast will always outperform agile snails who need more meetings to talk about who’ll click the deploy button and release the codebase to testing software.

Agile takes your team out of a Ferrari and puts them in a horse and cart with regular pooping stops for the horse aka meetings.

There’s no such thing as agile

Wait, what?

That’s right. Every tech company takes agile and adapts it. So while the methodology may mean well and actually work, it’s been so bastardized that no one can recognize the original principles.

A friend of mine works for a food delivery app. He told me they removed the user research component on a new product because it wasted their time and they could fail faster.

And without user research they sure will fail fast!

Bringing it all together

All agile does is turn 5 minute tasks into one year projects with a plan.

Like most things in life, agile sounds good in theory. But as you can see in practice it’s bullsh*t and needs to die.

Too many rules kill creativity. And creativity is the secret ingredient in business and career success.

Give up on agile. Just do the work without all the performance.

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