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Can you grok Agile without a programming background?

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The last fourteen years have been strange. The Agile movement, which was spawned out of the controversy over Extreme Programming, skyrocketed into success, and was subsequently taken over by the project managers who all but pushed the programmers out. We’ve seen the creation, the wild success, and the corresponding (and predictable) impotence, of certifications… We’ve experienced continuous and vocal process churn as consultants and authors split and competed over Kanban, Lean, and every new project-management prefix-of-the-day…

Taken from Extreme Programming, a Reflection, by Uncle Bob

Well, I’m glad I’m not alone in those feelings! But the core question, which will continue recurring, is: can you truly understand Agile, or any development methodology, without having done that most fundamental development work: programming? My gut and experience tells me absolutely not but yet we continue to hand over control of our development methodology to people who have never done programming, personally or professionally. I doubt I am alone in this sentiment.

And then there’s W. Edwards Deming, the stepfather of the modern Japanese automotive industry and Lean movement, who was not in any way initially a car guy, who was a statistician by education and practice. I could dismiss his profound success and influence as due to his brilliance or individual abilities, but I feel it’d be unfair and simplistic. I suspect serious insight can be made by having a “process expert” who is not an expert in the subject matter. A voracious reader, experimenter, learner, statistician. But rare. Not many are needed; those that are should be coaches and not managers.

Deming was disruptive, and unaccepted in America. “No man is a prophet in his own land.” Is the project manager running your standups Deming-like? Is he applying the principles of Lean and Agile, or just the tools of Scrum? Do retrospectives involve questioning the entire system, or have they degenerated to complaints about other teams?

I’m not saying your project manager is doing a bad job, but he’s likely no Deming. So should he be responsible for the implementation of Agile? Agile is, at its core, about creating tools that support principles that govern the way programming and development is done. Why should this be up to someone that doesn’t program, and never has? What outcome do you expect?

Every original signatory of the Agile Manifesto has experience as a software developer (or in one case, tester).

Programmers: take back ownership over Agile and the way you work.

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Published at DZone with permission of Rob Galanakis , DZone MVB .

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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