What The Agile Manifesto Teaches Us About Life?


So I hear these two different versions about how to live your; one side passionately talks about finding yourself through which you will find the purpose of your life. The other side stands at another pulpit and sermonizes that it’s not about finding yourself; instead it’s about losing yourself in a cause or passion which engulfs your body and soul. Being the high-priests that they are, they have very convincing arguments about their respective stands. But somehow, it’s surprising that apart from placing their opinions, people hardly ever go the distance to provide means by which their opinions can be made into ground realities. When you ask such questions, they’d say, well that’s for you to find out. Hell Yes, Holy Father!

The Swedes have a proverb which roughly translated into English says – “Don’t be a bird”. Which means that it’s damn easy to fly overhead and crap – provide opinions – but it’s hard to come down and clean the shit. That’s what I would like to say to these people. Please sir, don’t be a bird.

I have opinions too, but they are mine. I have worked hard at them, sometimes they have helped me succeed, and sometimes they have ensured that I failed. More of the latter, than the former. But the thing that makes me proud is that they are mine, I live with them, and I have made peace with them.

Being a technologist, I find solace in technical solutions rather than the “mental masturbation” that management philosophies stimulate. The primary reason is that most of the time, technical solutions are black &white as compared to the oft colorful management tenets. They way I look at it, we already have enough “technicolor” in life, and although it adds to the beauty it hides the contrasts (not the sharp ones, but the ones that are subtler). That’s because our minds are designed to hone in on the prettiness of the picture, the warm fuzzy feelings that it engenders, and in the process we tend to miss out on the details. So, sometimes black and white is good.

Which brings me to my adaptation of Agile principles in life. By definition, Agile Software Development is a group of software development methodologies based on iterative and incremental development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams. The Agile manifesto has 12-14 principles. I have picked 10 which I believe are the most appropriate to reflect the points that I want to make.

1.[AGILE] The highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
[LIFE] The “customer” is you and the “valuable software” is happiness. Happiness depends on what you want to make of it. The well being of your spouse, the education of your children, the hobby that you nurture but couldn’t really follow-up, the profession you want to pursue, etc. Look for that far and wide, leave no stones unturned

2.[AGILE] Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
[LIFE] Things change frequently and rapidly, learn to deal with it. You have it all set, and then suddenly the requirement for your happiness change, don’t sweat, pick-up the gauntlet and run with it. Make hard decisions so as to deliver the software not for anyone else but for the “customer’s competitive requirements”.

3.[AGILE] Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
[LIFE] Often in our daily routines, we spend too much time planning and strategizing. What this means in Agile is analysis paralysis. The point should be to deliver immediately. I don’t mean to say go on impulse, but I do mean to say that just follow the lead to deliver a working software, it may not be best, but you will know what it is not, and what your next course of action should be.

4.[AGILE] Build projects around motivated individuals.
[LIFE] In adult life we have to make allegiance with company, community etc. That’s inevitable. Go ahead and do it, but make sure that your “software development project” is built around people who you know will help you achieve what you want. Apart from them being nice and good, you should look for that “motivation” in them. The motivation to help you achieve your happiness. If you don’t find it, or if they run out of steam, then be firm in replacing or rejecting. It’s not unethical to do that; they would/will do that to you if the situation arises.

5.[AGILE] Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
[LIFE] This follows from the point above. Once you have your own set of “motivated” entities around you, give them the space to do their thing. Believing is important in getting to a goal and trust is an important factor. But the subtler concept here is that “trust but be wary”. If it’s not going the way you wanted it to, revert to Point 4.

6.[AGILE] The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
[LIFE] In whatever position you are, you are working for your team. Similarly your team is working with you. If the objective is slipping past you, or if the timelines are being extended, reach out and talk. Talk directly and firmly. Make sure you have all the information that you need to make a decision. And be prepared, sometimes the issues can lie within and not outside.

7.[AGILE] Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
[LIFE] This is one place where I agree with management pundits on both sides of the divide. Yes, I have been talking about your happiness all this while, but the key thing here is that your happiness lies in the heart of your unhappiness. Journeys of all great men remind us that it’s not the easy things that made their lives interesting. The off-beat path that they took which made others ridicule, snub, or supersede them. It’s the things that made their lives miserable that finally brought them to super-stardom. Beat yourself hard for each failure. Don’t go with the “wisdom of the crowd”. Learn to persevere. Because in the end its excellence that really matters. Find the path to pursue it with all heart and energy.

8.[AGILE] Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work NOT done–is essential.
[LIFE] Our society thrusts the wrong opinion about successful individuals. It says that the folks who achieve a lot are the folks who are hard-working. Right? Wrong. A donkey is hard-working too but I am yet to see a successful donkey. The basic thing about human nature is the tendency towards inertia. All great religions talk about this as their moot point – peace, contentment, inaction or what you will. What that means is not to be lazy, what it actually means is to have affirmative action and restraint. Hard work should come with a purpose of getting things done fast and efficiently so that you can return to state of inertia. Here I do have to give credit to the management gurus who termed this as “work smarter, not harder”. Extricate yourself from environments where you forced to do activities repeatedly for the sake of perfection or reaching a goal. That WILL NOT help you achieve your objectives.

9.[AGILE] Agile processes promote sustainable development.
[LIFE] If you have understood the above nine points then this is a no-brainer. Adult life is less about the glamorous jobs that we do and is more about the boredom, petty frustration, and routine. In this petty frustration and routine crap is where the art of “making a choice about one’s thought” and “building the agility in oneself” will come in handy.

10. [AGILE] Working software is the primary measure of progress.
[LIFE] Nothing much to add here. Replace “working” with “contented”, and “software” with “happiness”.

I don’t want to teach a lesson on morals here, because I am like you. I know that doing all this is hard, because it requires tremendous effort and will-power. So some days you might be up to it, while some days you might just flat line. I don’t know how to find myself and I really don’t know how I can lose myself either. But, I do know that there is subtler way to journey through life’s murderous meanderings.

In my opinion Agile shows you a hazy reflection of that way. In all its twists and turns, Agile principles in life is all about awareness, discipline, and attention in a myriad of petty unsexy ways. We all have been educated but in reality we are just literate not educated. The real value of education is not about the “knowledge” but more about the awareness of what is real, what is essential, and yet always hidden in plain sight.

So I would say, stop trying to find or lose yourself. Be yourself. Keep it simple, and if you don’t like the way things are, move on.

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