Your brain is not wired to work with agile methods.
Ten years ago in February, at Snowbird in Salt Lake City, Utah, I was hanging out with 16 notable folks who cared deeply about software development. We talked about many things, all around the general theme of what to that point had been called “light-weight processes.”
But “light-weight,” while perhaps technically correct, carried connotations of insufficiency. So after some discussion, we all agreed on coining the term agile. And thus the Agile Manifesto and the eponymous movement were born.
But agile techniques were a hard sell. Even simple, non-controversial practices such as version control weren’t yet universally adopted. I used to ask audiences at talks how many people did not use any version control on their project. Typically somewhere between 10% and 30% of the audience raised their hands. It wasn’t that folks were dead set against using version control on religious grounds, they either just didn’t know any better or just didn’t bother.
So surely this was just a matter of education; of spreading the word. Agile methods made sense. Agile ideas are grounded in reality, and even some actual science. Surely the world would see the logic in it? You’d expect some amount of resistance to any new way of developing software—especially one where continuing to Embrace Change was part and parcel of the new method. Folks don’t like change in general, and here we were advocating riding the wave of constant change. But somehow it seemed that resistance to agile ways went deeper than that.
We are not rational or logical creatures. We’d like to think we are, but the biological, psychological truth of the matter is that we’re predictably irrational. How irrational? Take a look at Wikipedia’s list of common cognitive biases for starters. This dauntingly long list begins to describe the many ways that we humans aren’t as logical or reliable as you might think. While you might encounter many of these in your daily life or work, a few stand out as significant barriers to agile adoption. These cognitive biases are why Johnny Can’t Be Agile.
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