All the companies I’ve been a part of, practice Agile methodologies for software development. Some of them considered lack of planning, processes, and practices as part of being agile because we were changing course all the time. A majority of the rest of them followed it by the book, focusing on the rituals, the jargon and the expected outcomes. They had Sprint planning, retrospectives, daily stand-ups, backlog grooming, and story point estimation. But it seemed dry for the most part. Engineers hated the tools, and the rituals. They felt like they were being dragged to meetings and being asked to talk when they would rather be building stuff that was actually useful. For all the shiny promises of Agile, it didn’t look so great, it didn’t feel so great. Things got done still – we shipped features, we built systems, we made money – some on time, some not. But mere completion is a low bar to measure the success of teams and organizations. The journey of Agile felt like traveling in a car that reached its destination but left all the passengers with a nauseating feeling. We did things the right way and checked all the boxes. The lights, the engine, the brakes, the acceleration, the fuel – everything was fine. But something still felt missing. It was hard to point out what was wrong.
It happens in other aspects of life too, when we do things not because of its inherent value, but from the influence of external forces – peer pressure, fear of missing out, external validation, culture, trends and so on. We travel to distant and exotic places over the weekends, even if we don’t feel like it, only to go back home exhausted, depleted and discontent. Traveling is what people do when they get a break from work, right? We follow and adopt trending diets or fitness routines, even when our body or mind rejects the idea. We aim to earn more money, regardless of how much we have, because society attributes it to success. The pattern is this: we focus more on the outcomes than the path taken, more on the ends than the means. And when we do that, no matter how exciting or promising the outcome is, deep down we still yearn to fill the void.
I follow a plant-based diet. People in my social circle who don’t, ask me how hard it is to follow a diet like that. They think that I’m disciplined and good at self-control. There could be a little bit of that, but that’s not what keeps me going. If I were battling with myself every time I saw a dessert, or any of the rich, creamy dishes that Indian cuisine has to offer, I’d have given up the vegan diet long ago. What keeps me at it is the reason I chose to make the switch in the first place. For me, it is primarily about reducing harm to animals. My commitment to that cause is unwavering. And I don’t say that with the slightest sense of arrogance. I’ve always been sensitive and empathetic towards other beings, since childhood. I was wired that way, so I’ve no reason to be riding the moral high ground. Why I adopted a plant-based diet has been the reason for why it has stuck long-term. So, how I do it almost becomes moot. I like the idea of a life that minimizes harm to others, and so I find ways to do it. It’s embracing a life that minimizes suffering to other beings, rather than the idea of adopting a plant-based life, that has made the journey more fulfilling, while producing the desired outcomes.
While people have different reasons for their choices, none wrong in itself, some make it easier for you to be at peace with the choices. You can adopt something to be good at it – you can lose weight without enjoying physical exercise, you can excel at your job without liking it. Adopting something is to value the desired outcome. Embracing it is to love the process. It is to change your mindset. Ultra-runners and other endurance athletes often talk about how they embrace the struggle and the suffering. It doesn’t make the journey any easier, but it does make it easier to not give up, to keep going, to endure.
As I’m reading about Agile methodologies, I’m fascinated by the why behind the values and principles stated. Learning about the reasons behind why a group of experts in the software industry decided to meet to solve certain problems, and the reasons for why they chose the values and principles they did, helps me understand the mindset they had. It helps me embrace the idea, rather than merely adopt the outcome. It reinforces the belief that the hardest problems in building software systems aren’t technological. Being Agile is a commitment, not unlike being in a relationship. You don’t always stick to the rules, but you always try to make it work, not because you have to, but because you want to. It starts with the mindset.