Monthly Archives: January 2014

“Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy.”
Mao Tse-tung

From its inception around radical ideas of collaboration, flourishing creativity and fervent communication, Agile has been usurped by a management cabal, and reshaped into a psychological form of control which incorporates neuro-linguistic programming techniques.

The Chinese Cultural Revolution
Mao Tse-tung was the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and the biggest mass-murderer of the 20th Century. In 1966, he instigated a decade long Cultural Revolution with the intention of imposing a brutal, egalitarian society to rid China of all “bourgeois” and “revisionist” elements. The Cultural Revolution was a response to the failed campaign of rapid industrialisation and collectivisation (The Great Leap Forward) of the Chinese economy.

The first step of the Cultural Revolution was to “cleanse” anyone in authority who could be accused of not blindly following the Maoist revolutionary philosophy of that time. These included university lecturers and Buddhists who were either thrown into “re-education” camps or summarily executed.

Decision Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
The intellectual basis of the Cultural Revolution was a document entitled, “Decision Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” or “the 16 points”. It was passed by the the party’s Central Committee in the mid-60’s and was used as a manifesto or a call to arms for revolutionary cadres to impose.

Below are some extracts from “the 16 points”. If you replace “the masses” with “the team” and “big character posters” with “big visual indicators” any of these statements could be lifted straight from your favourite Agile manual:

“Trust the masses, rely on them and respect their initiative. Cast out fear. Don’t be afraid of disturbances.”

“Let the masses educate themselves … and learn to distinguish between right and wrong and between correct and incorrect ways of doing things.”

“Make the fullest use of big-character posters and great debates to argue matters out, so that the masses can clarify the correct views, criticize the wrong views and expose all the ghosts and monsters.”

“It is normal for the masses to hold different views. Contention between different views is unavoidable, necessary and beneficial”.

The Agile Revolution
The foundation of the Agile Revolution is the Agile Manifesto and even after a decade of it being published there isn’t a single Agile coach or manager of some type who is not still repeating those four pithy lines as if they were something new.

Communism and Agile are both utopian ideas of fundamental change that have turned sour. The Chinese authorities needed revolutionary terror to ensure the continuation of communism and Agile needs its army of zealots that inhabit every software company. They are constantly finding more whiteboards, putting up posters, forcing us to attend Agile meetings, meticulously filling in spreadsheets and colouring things in. Dissent will not be tolerated. As workers in communist societies were once forced to become a member of the communist party in order to get a decent job, the software programmer must be a member of the “Agile community” or at least a professing Agilist in order to get work. Is there one person in IT who would dare put up their hand and declare, “I am not Agile”, without fear of the censorious consequences?

Even though the Agile Revolution was non-violent and no-one has ever been killed for not demonstrating their uncommitted devotion to the Agile movement, there are indeed, very clear similarities between the Cultural and Agile revolutions.

Cultural Revolution Agile Revolution
Great Leap Forward Waterfall
Communism Agile
Communist Party Agile Alliance
Decision Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution Agile Manifesto
The Red Army Agile zealots

Maoist Mind Control
A core communist belief is that we must destroy in order to rebuild. As we must destroy society we must also destroy the individual in order to rebuild him anew. The Chinese term “wash the brain” was used to describe the practises of psychological destruction and replacement employed by Maoist officials in the Korean War. Chosen techniques included sleep and sensory deprivation, sexual and verbal abuse, inculcation of guilt and fear, and the use of drugs and hypnotism. In some cases the methods were so effective, that American soldiers defected to the communist side and began espousing anti-American sentiment.

Agile Mind Control
Methods of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) have become a sinister underpinning of modern Agile implementations, with their primary purpose of changing the beliefs and values of the human mind.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming
We would normally see “programming” as an activity that involves computers and not people, but NLP attempts to do exactly that by modelling or codifying the behaviours of successful people to be used as recipes for others to follow. It attempts to demonstrate a determinant relationship between the mind (neuro) and language (linguistic) to the body and behaviour (programming).

Anchoring is a NLP technique for changing the state of a mind. It is a method for consciously and deliberately pairing a chosen stimulus (anchor) with a desired response (resource). The classic example is the Pavlovian dogs, where the sound of a bell was paired with the giving of food. After a number of pairings of the bell and food, it was enough to just ring the bell to elicit dog salivation. For NLP proponents “anchoring” is seen as a trigger which activates our “representational systems”.

The intellectual work of commercial programming is naturally performed in a communal and non-hierarchical way. Artificially imposed authority is worthless in the world of thought, experimentation, reflection, discussion, implementation and review which constitutes social programming. To reassert the social status of managers, Agile anchors of stand-ups, iteration planning, retrospectives and workshops are instated, which are intended to regress us back into the infant school. The first thing in the morning at primary school a bell rings and the pupils stand in line for a role call. This is the model for the stand-up, although additionally in a stand-up a justification of existence needs to be made. In some instances, the manager rings a bell to ensure developers promptly arrive. In retrospectives the artifacts of the primary school are used: pastel coloured post-it notes with colours given meaning, plentiful large colourful markers to signify crayons, hand-drawn pictures pinned on walls, drawings of sad faces, happy faces, the forced elicitation of our feelings, the sticky dots that we place on cards, the manager’s air of a headteacher, and even the allocation of gold stars to well behaved programmers. These repeated activities of infantilisation are triggers for us to helplessly defer to Agile ideology and hierarchy and prevent us from fully realising our true self-worth. Agile is not love. Agile is a hammer which is used to crush the enemy.

Gandhian Techniques of Non-violent Resistance
Gandhi led a mass nationalist movement against British rule in India. He employed tactics of non-violent civil disobedience that refused to submit to oppressive laws. He would articulate his disapproval, withdraw from unjust activities and engage in other forms of peaceful protest. Programmers should follow suit and politely refuse to be drawn into acts of infantilisation and control; rejecting Pavlovian triggers, refusing to handle objects of the nursery and refusing to answer the question, “Have you been happy or sad this iteration?” Only then can we be free from the oppressive nature of Agile and be able to do our work both as programmers and as adult human beings.