Agile and the Devil’s Advocate

Software development has three camps regarding agile:

  • Outspoken True believers – everything is utopian if you only embrace it,
  • Outspoken Non-believers – nothing good there, would rather eat grass than have anything to do with it,
  • Somewhere in the middle – good and bad in everything, use what you can and adapt as you go.

There is actually a fourth camp; the oblivious (software developers who don't care enough about their craft to investigate options).

Fortunately, most developers (at least the ones I know) fall into the somewhere in the middle.

Humans when faced with change; encounter fear… the resistance.

  • Some ignore the fear and blindly accept the change,
  • Some are paralyzed by the fear and put up unbreachable walls,
  • Some face their fears and push on,
  • Some look to others (leaders) to find the courage to push on.

People with no fear are pretty risky to be around (think about riding in a car with them).

The Devil's Advocate

The devil's advocate is a person who points out all the bad things that could happen. In most cases, this is done with a conscious or subconscious effort to derail the change.

The best example of this is finding examples of where agile doesn't work:

  • It doesn't work in small development organizations,
  • It doesn't work in large development organizations,
  • It doesn't work for fixed price projects,
  • It doesn't work for inexperienced teams,
  • It doesn't work for remote teams.

The reality is that software development has always been risky. After all, you are building new and potentially complex things. Agile is an attempt by the development community to introduce an alternative (actually many different alternatives). For every success or failure I can find the opposite (with or without agile).

Why do we focus on the negative more than the success as humans? Fear. We want to be safe and change and the resulting stress does not make us feel safe. As Seth Godin calls it; the lizard brain or the resistance.

What Can We Learn?

Any software development group not learning and moving forward, is moving backwards. This is because the world itself is moving. Status quo is a false safety.

Playing the devi's advocate, if done from a learning perspective, allows you to consider all the pros and cons and then address them so you have a better chance of succeeding. The goal is not to quash forward momentum, but to minimize the false starts.

More importantly though, it allows you to allay the fears that everyone naturally has by having solutions, not just problems.

Whether you chose to embrace agile or not, there is something to learn in observing the success and failures of others.

By | 2017-04-03T11:57:52+00:00 February 24th, 2010|Categories: Doug's Blog, Software Development|

About the Author:

Doug Wagner is an entrepreneur, President and Co-founder of Sunwapta Solutions. Sunwapta's mission is to help businesses transform from surviving to thriving, sustainable growth. From strategy to implementation, this means marketing, sales, managing your brand and delivering consistent value. Get more clients and keep them.