Nietzsche on Agile Software Development

DISCLAIMER

What you are about to read is almost completely wrong. I’m obviously not a philosopher so don’t hold it against me please. This is also a huge shortcut of what Agile really is, and what values it really relies on. It also features a couple of myths and commonplaces about Agile and non-Agile thinking. In fact this article is a joke.

Background

Before the Agile era begins in the mid-1990 early-2000, software development methods was essentially copied on age-old methods from industry or architecture. The common belief was that the biggest the requirements are, the better the end-result will be, and the more details we have before we start, the better the design will be. So before coding actually starts, projects had to go through several specification-validation loops. When the requirements were eventually accepted and the design finally validated, the documentation mass could be transmitted to the development team which had to “do it”. So the thing was as follows:

No need for good developers as long as the process is followed scrupulously.

…that was a mistake, and Friedrich Nietzsche warned us about it long ago.

der Wille zur Macht

An important component in Nietzsche’s philosophy is what we usually designate as “Wille zur Macht“, the will to power. Nietzsche believes that the number one driving force of human beings is his will to power: the will to reach the highest position, the will achieve more, the will to have control on things we do, on things that surround us.

Earlier, Arthur Schopenhauer identified the will as being the driving force of all things, especially the will to live. In Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, he defines will as the kernel of everything. Will can be found behind every desire, every expectation, every wanting.

Nietzsche, who were influenced by Schopenhauer, precises that this particular will that drives human beings is the will to power, not only the will to live.

In the posthumous book Der Wille zur Macht, Nietzsche write:

My idea is that every specific body strives to become master over all space and to extend its force and to thrust back all that resists its extension.

The problem with pre-Agile methods

Pre-Agile methods emphasize processes, documentation, specifications and requirements. This over-usage of pre-coding documentation is meant to force developers to code in the exact way that the architect want them to code, theoretically ensuring that the result will be what the architect designed; and what the client wanted provided that the architect followed a same set of rigid methods and processes.

In industry this kind of reasoning can possibly work if workers’ field of action is restricted to the bare minimum. The problem with software development is that the field of action of developers cannot be restricted in such a way that they only have to put a screw in a piece  metal. Software development is not an industry, it is a craftsmanship, and this includes some creativity. According to Merriam Webster a craftsman is “one who creates or performs with skill or dexterity especially in the manual arts“.

You cannot restrict a graduated man with a high skill level into following scrupulously a huge specification and architecture document. His nature, his will, will struggle, fight for more space. The guy will start thinking : “Hey!? What the f*** is that? This architecture is just a non-sense!”, “I would have done better”, “Ok, they want me to do that, I will do that…but it’s completely dumb” or even the famous “It’s not a youngster like him who will teach me how to do my job”. Will needs space…and responsibilities.

The Agile way

The Agile manifesto reads as follows:

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.

Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.
Kent Beck, Mike Beedle, Arie van Bennekum, Alistair Cockburn, Ward Cunningham, Martin Fowler, James Grenning, Jim Highsmith, Andrew Hunt, Ron Jeffries,

Jon Kern, Brian Marick, Robert C. Martin, Steve Mellor, Ken Schwaber, Jeff Sutherland, Dave Thomas

The most important part here is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”.

The Agile philosophy is based on the principle that people are more important than processes, and grant them with more responsibilities, give them more space. Now developers have enough room for their will to expand. They can interact directly with the client, their team is self-managed, there is no heavy architecture adopted without the team consent, they are responsible for designing the application at a code level, including the OOD, etc.

Clearly the developer becomes the center of a project…but this does not mean anarchy. This means responsibilities. There is no way to hide behind a project leader : the team has committed itself. The code must be clean : someone else is coding in this part tomorrow. We have rules to follow : not the ones from an enterprise architect but the ones the team has given to itself.

Conclusion

In the 19th century, Nietzsche already knew that individuals were the center of all things. He knew that the will is almighty, that the will to power is what drives people, that people need more responsibilities, need to be considered as what they are, need to become better than what they used to be, need to achieve things. This is what Agile methods do by placing people in the center and considering developers as what they are : craftsmen.

…Ok I’m out.

References And Readings

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