A Voice in the Wilderness

The Agile House of Cards

The Agile-technical industry complex can indeed be likened to a house of cards, precariously balanced yet vulnerable to the slightest disturbance. Agile, the software development model touted for its adaptability and focus on incremental, customer-centric progress, is often lauded as the ideal approach. However, the complete absence of any scientific or theoretical underpinning for Agile is a glaring shortcoming. And one that nobody wants to talk about.

Its practices and methodologies are founded on heuristics and anecdotal experiences rather than robust empirical data or time-tested theories.

Moreover, Agile’s supposed benefits, such as enhanced productivity, increased customer satisfaction, and expedited delivery, largely rest on unverified claims. There is an alarming dearth of rigorous, peer-reviewed studies that confirm these benefits definitively.

Furthermore, Agile’s emphasis on adaptability and quick response to change, although seemingly beneficial, can lead to volatile project scopes, ever-shifting deadlines, and mounting technical debt. These factors can undermine the stability and predictability crucial to the success of a project.

In essence, the Agile paradigm, despite its current dominance, appears to be an edifice built on sand. Its fundamental principles lack rigorous theoretical grounding, and its touted advantages are not substantiated by empirical evidence. Like a house of cards, it seems Agile may be one disruptive breeze away from collapsing, and its dominance in the tech industry is more a result of hype, ignorance and trend-following rather than any solid, scientific foundations.

Lessons from History: Ignaz Semmelweis, Unwashed Hands and Ignored Evidence

Ignaz Semmelweis

The tale of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, a 19th-century Hungarian physician, is a poignant lesson from history about the risks of ignoring empirical evidence. Semmelweis, often referred to as the ‘savior of mothers’, made a groundbreaking discovery: that childbed fever, a leading cause of death among women in childbirth, could be significantly reduced if doctors simply washed their hands with chlorinated lime solutions. Despite solid data supporting his assertion, Semmelweis’s peers rejected his claims, reluctant to accept the notion that they could be the carriers of disease. Tragically, the subsequent years saw egregious and unnecessary loss of life, only to have Semmelweis’s hygiene protocol later adopted as the standard.

Incredibly, despite clear evidence, and over a century of progress, studies show that healthcare professionals today still frequently neglect hand hygiene. This lapse not only perpetuates the risk of infections but also symbolizes a broader issue: the disregard for clear evidence in professional practices (and cf. Compassionomics).

Drawing an analogy, the field of software development offers a strikingly similar scenario. Despite decades of research suggesting that management practices are the rock upon which software projects so often founder, many developers and organisations still fail to address the issue. The reasons might vary, ranging from tight schedules to a lack of understanding of their importance, but the result remains the same: sub-optimal outcomes that could otherwise be avoided.

This recurring pattern of ignoring evidence in favor of established practices or convenience is not just an issue in medicine or software development, but can be found across various fields. It underscores the deeply ingrained human tendencies of resistance to evidence and pervasive cognitive biases. We often favour our existing assumptions and beliefs, even when confronted with compelling evidence that suggests we might better choose to think or act differently.

In conclusion, the case of Ignaz Semmelweis serves as a stark reminder of the importance of embracing evidence-based practices, however uncomfortable or inconvenient they may be. Both in medicine and software development, and indeed in every field of human endeavor, we might choose to keep our minds open to new evidence, be ready to question our established practices, and be willing to change.

The stakes are high: the health of our patients, the quality of our software, the progress of our societies, and ultimately, the advancement of our collective human knowledge.

It is clear that to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, we must learn to balance our intuition and experience with the humility to acknowledge and adapt when evidence points to a better way. It is a lesson that Dr. Semmelweis, with his chlorinated lime solutions, would want us to remember.

Why So Cruel?

What is it that makes people, particularly those in positions of power and authority, seem so cruelly blind to the needs of others? Could it be that the Antimatter Principle, which encourages us to focus on attending to folks’ needs, is simply lost on those who rise to the top?

Is it possible that “the system” in most organisations unwittingly selects for promotion and responsibility those with shortfalls in empathy, compassion, and interest in the needs of others? Perhaps there’s a hidden flaw in the criteria used to evaluate leaders, resulting in the ascension of individuals who prioritise their own ambitions over the well-being of their team members.

Might we also consider that folks in positions of power may develop a sense of entitlement, leading them to overlook the feelings and concerns of those they perceive as beneath them? If so, how can we, as individuals and as a society, work towards changing this and foster a more compassionate approach?

Let’s not forget, though, that there are certainly people who do exhibit empathy and a genuine concern for the needs of others. What sets them apart from the rest, and how can we nurture these qualities in future generations?

In conclusion, it’s a curious conundrum why some people in power can be so seemingly blind to the needs of others. Whether it’s a product of the system selecting for certain traits or a gradual development of entitlement, organisations might choose to recognise the importance of empathy, compassion, and the Antimatter Principle in creating a more nurturing and supportive environment for everyone.

Effective Software Development

Everyone in the software industry (managers excepted) knows the following is true, yet nobody wants to talk about it:

Effective software development is entirely incompatible with typical (hierarchical, command-and-control) management.

After 50 years in the industry, I’d go so far as to say:

Effective software development is entirely incompatible with ANY known form of management.


Place managers in charge of software development and it can NEVER be ANYTHING but ineffective (high costs, low quality, poor due date performance, lack of innovation, etc.).

NB Applies more broadly, beyond the domain of software development, too.


The reasons for this incompatibility can be explained as follows:

1. Creativity and innovation: Software development is a highly creative and innovative process that often requires developers to think out of the box, experiment, and come up with novel solutions. A hierarchical management structure stifles creativity and inhibits the free flow of ideas, emphasising, as it does, strict adherence to rules and policies.

2. Responsiveness and flexibility: In the rapidly changing world of technology, software development teams need to be responsive and adaptable in order to respond quickly to changes in requirements, market conditions, approaches, and user feedback. A command-and-control management style, which relies on rigid plans and mandated approaches, tools, makes it difficult to impossible for teams to pivot and adapt as needed.

3. Collaboration and communication: Effective software development relies on close collaboration and communication among team members with diverse skills and expertise. Hierarchical management structures create barriers to communication, with information flowing primarily up and down the chain of command, rather than freely among team members.

4. Autonomy and motivation: Software developers tend to be highly skilled, motivated individuals who thrive on autonomy and the ability to make decisions about their work. Command-and-control management undermines their motivation by imposing external control and limiting their decision-making authority.

The broader point being made in the corollary statement is that traditional hierarchical management is never the best fit for software development, and that organisations might choose to consider alternative organisational styles and structures that are more conducive to the unique demands of software development.

This idea can indeed apply beyond the domain of software development, as many industries are increasingly recognising the need for more responsive, collaborative, and flexible management approaches to drive innovation and adapt to rapidly changing environments.

Compliance or Self-worth?

Personally, I’ve always chosen self-worth, both for myself and for others.

Finding a job often requires individuals to compromise their self-worth in exchange for strict obedience to workplace rules and policies. This trade-off can result in employees feeling disengaged from their positions. In simpler terms, when job seekers prioritise pleasing their managers, conforming to existing shared assumptions and beliefs about work, and fitting into the workplace mold, they find themselves ignoring their own needs and values. This leads to feeling disconnected from their jobs and overall dissatisfaction and disengagement.

Unfortunately, many workplaces are structured in a way that rewards blind compliance instead of encouraging personal growth and self-expression. When employees suppress their unique traits and conform to the company’s expectations, they might secure a job, but they risk losing their sense of identity and motivation.

For a healthy work environment, employees and managers alike may choose to recognise the importance of individuality and self-worth. When people feel valued for who they are, they are much more likely to be engaged and committed to their roles. Ultimately, this leads to a more productive and satisfied workforce.

Beneath the Agile Mirage: Unmasking the Lipstick-Smeared Swindle of Modern Software Development!

💡 Prepare to embark on a thrilling exposé, where we unravel the tangled web of Agile’s alluring illusion, and reveal the startling truth lurking beneath its glossy veneer – a revelation that will leave you questioning everything you thought you knew about software development!

➡ You know, there’s an old saying that goes, “You can put lipstick on a pig and call it Agile, but it’s a waste of your time and annoys the pig.” It’s such an apt description of the Agile approach to software development, don’t you think? I mean, people talk about how Agile is the be-all and end-all solution to software development woes, but in reality, it’s just one big lipstick-covered pig.

Even when organisations follow Agile to the letter, it never seems to work out as expected. The whole system is supposed to be about flexibility and adaptability, but so often it just ends up being a convoluted mess. Sure, you have all these meetings, sprints, and stand-ups that give the appearance of progress, but it’s really just a bunch of people running in circles.

And let’s not even get started on the endless stream of buzzwords and jargon that’s constantly thrown around in Agile environments. It’s like some twisted game of corporate Mad Libs that doesn’t actually result in any tangible improvements.

So yeah, you can slap a coat of Agile lipstick on your development pig, but don’t be surprised when it doesn’t magically transform into a streamlined, efficient machine. More often than not, you’ll just end up with a frustrated pig and a whole lot of wasted time.

“Have you heard of Bill Deming?”

At every opportunity I ask this question, and the answer is always overwhelmingly “No”.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming is a highly influential figure in the world of business, management and quality control, yet many people have never even heard of him.

This is a surprising fact given that his ideas and principles have helped to transform countless organisations around the globe.

Deming’s philosophy is centered on the idea of continuous improvement, where businesses are encouraged to constantly improve their products, services, and processes. His 14 points and System of Profound Knowledge have become a blueprint for achieving this goal, emphasising the importance of appreciation for a system, quality, and employee engagement.

Despite his impact, many people remain unaware of Deming and his contributions to modern business practices. This makes me sad, as his ideas provide a roadmap for businesses struggling to remain competitive in today’s rapidly changing world. By learning more about Deming and his principles, organisations gain valuable insights and strategies for success.


A Lament for Agile Software Development

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Agile development, we loved thee so,
Yet now thy flame is flickering low,
And all the world grows dimmer in our sight.

Once thou wert young and full of fire,
A new way of working, a bright new dawn,
We dreamed of all the things thou couldst spawn,
And all the ways thou couldst lift us higher.

But now we mourn thy fading grace,
Thy light that once shone bright and bold,
Now flickers weakly, frail and old,
And leaves us lost in this darkened space.

No more the sprints that flew so fast,
No more the stand-ups sharp and bright,
No more the retrospectives to shed light,
On how to improve, how to make it last.

Agile development, we bid thee adieu,
Thou wert a bright star in our sky,
And though now we say our fey goodbye,
We’ll hold onto the lessons we learned from you.

HR Professionals: Well-Meaning Angels, Incompetent Fools

Are HR professionals well-meaning but inept? As crucial as their role may be, their lack of competence in key areas can lead to disastrous outcomes. From misunderstanding company culture to botching employment law, the consequences can be far-reaching. Read on to discover the pitfalls of HR ignorance and its impact on employees and the company’s bottom line.

It is often said that HR people are universally well-meaning, but this does not necessarily translate into competence. While it is true that HR professionals may have the best intentions, their lack of knowledge and understanding in key areas can lead to disastrous outcomes.

One of the main areas where HR professionals fall short is in their lack of understanding of company culture. HR professionals are often brought into an organisation to help maintain a positive work environment, but they may not have a good grasp of what makes that environment positive in the first place. This can lead to policies and practices that are at odds with the company culture, and can ultimately cause more harm than good. Ignorance of even basic psychology and human motivation is lamentable.

Another area where HR professionals may lack competence is in their understanding of employment law. While HR professionals are expected to be experts in this field, many do not have the necessary training or experience to make informed decisions. This can lead to legal issues for the company, and can put employees at risk.

HR professionals may also lack competence in communication. They may not have the skills to effectively communicate with employees, leading to misunderstandings and confusion. This can create a negative work environment and can damage the company’s reputation.

In conclusion, while it is true that HR professionals may have the best intentions, their lack of competence in key areas can be detrimental to both employees and the company as a whole.


The Great Deception: Truth is, Working For the Man is Unfulfilling and Oppressive

The idea that work is fulfilling and liberating has been touted as a central tenet of the capitalist system for generations. The notion is that work provides people with a sense of purpose and self-worth, and that it is a means of obtaining financial independence and personal freedom. This concept has been perpetuated by those in power, who have a vested interest in keeping people virtually enslaved. The reality, however, is that for many, work is far from fulfilling and liberating. In fact, for many people, work is a source of stress, anxiety, and oppression.

The proponents of this idea would argue that work is fulfilling because it provides people with a sense of purpose, and that it is liberating because it allows people to escape poverty and the lack of opportunity that often comes with it. They claim that work is the key to success and happiness, and that anyone who wants to achieve these things simply needs to work hard and be disciplined. However, this is a fallacy that has been perpetuated by those who benefit the most from it.

The truth is that work is often far from fulfilling, and that it is not liberating. The demands of work can be overwhelming, and the pressure to perform can be immense. The hours are long, and the work is often monotonous and unfulfilling. The reality is that work can be a source of unhappiness, rather than happiness, and that it can be a source of enslavement, rather than liberation.

The wealthy elites, who benefit the most from the system, have the wealth and power to manipulate and control the system, and they exploit the masses by perpetuating the notion that work is fulfilling and liberating. This is a cruel deception to keep people working for the Man, and to keep them from questioning the system.

In conclusion, the idea that work is fulfilling and liberating is a cruel deception that has been perpetuated by those in power. For many people, work is a source of stress, anxiety, and oppression, and it is not the key to happiness and success that it is often portrayed to be. It is up to each of us to challenge this notion and to fight for a fairer and more equitable system that values people over profits.


After all these years, I still love coding (as in writing software).

It’s just that it’s tainted by the certainty that there’s so many other more effective ways of adding value and meeting folks’ needs.

Spending time coding feels so… self-indulgent.

You Don’t Understand Software Delivery

And the more senior you are, the less you understand. Even if you were once a developer, given that most developers don’t understand software development / software delivery, a developer background is not going to help you much.

Who does understand software delivery? Folks who have studied it as a discipline. And that’s precious few indeed. Of all the “development” folks I’ve met over the years – and that’s thousands – wayyy less than one percent actually have an effective understanding of the field.

Yes, there’s thousands upon thousands of folks who understand coding (programming). But that’s not much help at all in forming a broader and effective understanding of the wider software delivery discipline.

The upshot? The software industry is stacked to the gills with folks who have no clue what they’re doing, except in the narrowest of specialism. And worse, no ability to recognise the one percent. Result? The blind leading the blind. And the hegemony of the one-eyed man.

– Bob

There is helpful and useful content out there. But finding it amongst all the dross is a massive challenge.

I despair of the boatloads of naive advice, misinformation, and just pure tosh that so-called “Agile” people spout on a daily basis. (Not limited to just “Agile” people, of course.)

Caveat lector!

And just in case you’d like a sanity check on anything suspect or dubious, I’m always happy to support your natural scepticism. Just get in touch for non-partisan help.

Seeds of Failure

Agile has become widespread and popular mainly because it promises “improvements” without demanding that the decision-makers change. Of course, without people changing (in particular, managers changing their collective assumptions and beliefs) Agile has zero chance of delivering on its promises. It then becomes “just one more packaged method to install in the development teams” – and just one more debacle.

As the French say:

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.

Thus Agile carries with it the seeds of its own inevitable failure.

“But what if managers DO change?” I hear you ask.

Well, if they change themselves in ways that move them and their organisations towards the quintessential, they won’t choose Agile.

Seeds of Success

And if you’re wondering what the seeds of success might look like, you may like to take a look at my recent book “Quintessence” (Marshall 2021).

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub).

The irony of my situation. is not lost on me (although I guess it’s lost on most everyone else).

My career has been driven for at least the past thirty years by my concern and compassion for those many millions of folks working in jobs where they have no chance to fulfil their innate potential. Not to mention the unemployed, who also have little to zero opportunity to exercise any of their innate potential.

And now I find myself in the same situation. Oh, the irony.

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