Agile – real or placebo?

Is Agile software development just a placebo effect ? Do we get better results because we expect and believe things will get better? Or is there something more to Agile?

Linda Rising continues to enthrall us in seeing agile way of developing software in a different perspective. Earlier it was aping the ape, which gave us new insight in seeing teams.

This time she ponders if the same belief system which makes placebo work in medicine makes agile work in software development.  She believes that the belief system in agile makes many good things happen in agile.  Sheep, it seems, are the believers.

Though I found it interesting, I found it difficult to see the direct connection. Nevertheless it raised some beautiful questions which makes you think. But at the end of the day – does it matter? She says it doesn’t.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely devotes a chapter on placebo in his book Predictably Irrational . Quote from it: “Placebo comes from the Latin for “I shall please.” The term was used in the fourteenth century to refer to sham mourners who were hired to wail and sob for the deceased at funerals. By 1785 it appeared in the _New Medical Dictionary,__ attached to marginal practices of medicine”. Dan Ariely says, two mechanism shape expectations that make placebos work, one is belief and other is conditioning.

How will a patient react if she knows she is on placebo? How will an agile developer react? If agile is offering placebo, what reason is there to believe that waterfall didn’t? After all, more managers backed waterfall than agile. If placebo is defined as pseudo-treatment with real cure, which part of agile is really pseudo?

Anyway, whatever the questions are, it’s refreshing to see Dr.Linda Rising bringing forth another interesting perspective.

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