For years now I’ve been hearing ever louder voices announcing the death of agile. Some have suggested that lean is the new agile. Recently, there has been a call for a new agile manifesto.
With all of this in the background of my mind, I was re-reading one of Clifford Geertz’ most famous essays while and I can’t resist quoting the opening passage in full, because it takes on a new significance for me in light of our evolving understanding of agile.
In her book, Philosophy in a New Key, Susanne Langer remarks that certain ideas burst upon the intellectual landscape with a tremendous force. They resolve so many fundamental problems at once that they seem also to promise that they will resolve all fundamental problems, clarify all obscure issues. Everyone snaps them up as the open sesame of some new positive science, the conceptual center-point around which a comprehensive system of analysis can be built. The sudden vogue of such a grande idee, crowding out almost everything else for a while, is due, she says, “to the fact that all sensitive and active minds turn at once to exploiting it. We try it in every connection, for every purpose, experiment with possible stretches of its strict meaning, with generalizations and derivatives.”
After we have become familiar with the new idea, however, after it has become part of our general stock of theoretical concepts, our expectations are brought more into balance with its actual uses, and its excessive popularity is ended. A few zealots persist in the old key-to-the-universe view of it; but less driven thinkers settle down after a while to the problems the idea has really generated. They try to apply it and extend it where it applies and where it is capable of extension; and they desist where it does not apply or cannot be extended. It becomes, if it was, in truth, a seminal idea in the first place, a permanent and enduring part of our intellectual armory. But it no longer has the grandiose, all-promising scope, the infinite versatility of apparent application, it once had.
The second law of thermodynamics, or the principle of natural selection, or the notion of unconscious motivation, or the organization of the means of production does not explain everything, not even everything human, but it still explains something; and our attention shifts to isolating just what that something is, to disentangling ourselves from a lot of pseudoscience to which, in the first flush of its celebrity, it has also given rise.
-from “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture” by Clifford Geertz
Does that sound familiar? Perhaps this is where we are now with agile. We’ve finally accepted that it’s not a panacea, and some are disappointed to learn that making software is still hard. Managing knowledge work is still messy. Let’s apply ourselves to the task of identifying and patching the holes and accept that agile, having turned the software world on its head by reinjecting humanity into the process, is now a part of us. But our journey continues, and Kanbanery is working to address some of the most pressing gaps (or opportunities) of our post-agile world.