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The 7 Deadly Sins of Agile: A Grecian Odyssey through Modern Software Development

November 9, 2023

In the rich tapestry of ancient Greek philosophy, the concept of the seven deadly sins stands out as a profound exploration of human nature and morality. Deeply rooted in Greek thought, these sins were not seen as fleeting transgressions. Instead, they were formidable obstacles, barriers between individuals and a virtuous, fulfilling life.

These sins promised personal suffering, societal decay, and eventual destruction if left unchecked. Fast forward to our modern era, as we traverse the intricate landscape of software development, particularly through the lens of the agile approach, we find these age-old Greek sins echoing in the challenges and pitfalls agile teams often encounter. The striking parallels remind us that while times have changed, the essence of human challenges remains consistent. This journey involves identifying these pitfalls in the agile world and drawing wisdom from ancient Greek insights to navigate and overcome them.

  1. Pride (Hubris):

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    In ancient Greece, Hubris was considered an excessive self-confidence, often the root of all sins. It warned against overestimating one's abilities to the point of challenging the gods themselves. In the agile context, Martin discusses how this excessive pride can lead teams to believe they're infallible, often overlooking critical feedback and insights. Such teams might think their approach is beyond reproach, leading them to dismiss valuable external perspectives. This can result in resistance to change, even when evidence suggests adjustments are needed. The essence of agility is adaptability, and an overabundance of pride can stifle this, hindering a team's growth and evolution.ย 

  2. Envy (Phthonos):


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    In the wisdom of ancient Greece, Phthonos or Envy was a caution against the resentment stemming from seeing others possess what one desires. It was a warning about the dangers of coveting another's success without understanding the journey behind it. In the agile landscape, Martin sheds light on how this envy often manifests when teams and organisations blindly emulate successful agile models, such as the "Spotify model", without tailoring them to their unique needs and circumstances. This blind imitation, driven by envy, can lead teams astray, causing them to adopt practices that might not align with their goals or organisational culture. The key takeaway is to focus on one's unique journey, drawing inspiration from others but constantly adapting it to one's context.

  3. Gluttony (Gastrimargia):


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    Ancient Greeks perceived Gastrimargia, or Gluttony, as a warning against overindulgence and excess. It wasn't just about food but about consuming more than one's fair share in any aspect of life. In the agile domain, Martin delves into how this gluttony is mirrored in the realm of product development. He touches upon the tendency of teams to bloat their product backlogs, hoarding tasks and features, often more than they can realistically handle. This overindulgence leads to inefficiencies, with teams spreading themselves too thin, trying to tackle more than they can manage. The essence is to maintain a lean backlog, prioritising tasks that deliver genuine value and avoiding the trap of trying to do everything at once.

  4. Lust (Porneia):


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    In the annals of ancient Greek thought, Porneia, or Lust, was more than just a passionate desire; it was seen as a form of madness leading to destructive behaviour. It cautioned against being blinded by intense desires, often leading one astray from one's true path. Translating this to the agile world, Martin highlights how Lust manifests as the intense yearning for quick fixes, shortcuts, and silver bullets without investing genuine effort. Teams might be lured by the promise of rapid transformations or the allure of new tools, often neglecting the foundational principles of agile. This can lead to superficial implementations that lack depth and understanding. True agility requires commitment, understanding, and consistent effort, not just fleeting desires.

  5. Greed (Philargyria):


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    In the philosophical teachings of ancient Greece, Philargyria, or Greed, was depicted as an excessive desire for wealth and possessions, often at the expense of other virtues. It was a reminder of the dangers of placing material gains above all else. In the agile context, Martin discusses how this greed manifests as overemphasising quick returns and immediate gains. Teams might prioritise short-term profits over long-term value, or focus excessively on resource utilisation without considering genuine value delivery. This can lead to decisions that might provide immediate benefits but harm the project in the long run. The essence of agile is to deliver consistent value over time, and an overbearing focus on immediate gains can detract from this goal.

  6. Sloth (Acedia):


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    In the ancient Greek ethos, Acedia or Sloth was a warning against a lack of motivation and interest in life. In the agile realm, Martin highlights how Sloth manifests in various forms across teams, organisations, and leadership. A common manifestation is the sheer reluctance or, as he puts it, "not bothering our arse" to do what's promised. Teams might claim they're "doing Agile," yet they don't deliver a working product at the end of a Sprint, or they might have convoluted deployment processes out of the developers' control. The absence of an ordered backlog is another telltale sign. This lethargy might stem from a top-down directive to "do agile" in environments not suited for it, perhaps due to legacy systems like mainframes. Martin emphasises the importance of honesty and transparency, urging teams to be forthright about their capabilities and limitations.

  7. Wrath (Thymos):


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    In the ancient Greek ethos, Thumos, or Wrath, was a caution against unchecked anger and its potential to lead to destruction. It was a reminder of the dangers of letting emotions, especially anger, dictate actions without reason. In the agile context, Martin highlights how wrath manifests in organisations. It's often seen in the inability to accept mistakes or the reluctance to take accountability. This wrathful behaviour can lead to a blame culture, where individuals or teams are more concerned about deflecting blame instead of addressing the root cause of an issue. For instance, when stakeholders question a decision, they might deflect the blame onto the team instead of the product owner taking responsibility. Such environments stifle innovation and growth as teams become more risk-averse, fearing the repercussions of making mistakes. This lack of accountability and a blame culture is indicative of an organisation's wrath, preventing it from truly embracing the agile mindset.

In reflecting upon these seven cardinal sins of agile, it becomes evident that the challenges faced in modern software development are not just technical but deeply human. Drawing from this rich tapestry of Greek wisdom and Martinโ€™s insightful videos, this exploration serves as both a cautionary tale and a guide. Itโ€™s a journey of introspection, ensuring that as we navigate the agile seas, we remain true to its core principles, fostering innovation, collaboration, and genuine value delivery. ๐Ÿš€๐Ÿ›ค๏ธ

These insights serve as a timely reminder that while agile offers powerful tools for success, they require a genuine commitment to values, principles, and continuous introspection. As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of agile, letโ€™s be mindful of these pitfalls, ensuring that our journey is not just about delivering software but also about fostering a culture of growth, collaboration, and genuine value. Letโ€™s learn from the past, be it ancient Greece or our own missteps, to build a brighter, agile future.

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