Why Agile Software Development is Not Working in Singapore

Why Agile Software Development is Not Working in Singapore

The progressive nature of this country is astounding. So why isn’t agile software development working out here?

First, I would like for you to take a couple of minutes to watch Dave Thomas’ presentation “Agile is Dead”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-BOSpxYJ9M It will give you an idea of the initial purpose of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

You don’t have time to watch the video? Here’s a summary that will give you an idea of what he’s saying:

Agile software development, as it was initially intended, is dead. The word ‘agile” itself was basically transformed from an adjective to a noun, i.e. made into an ‘absolute’ principle, a product, a state to achieve, something concrete to build. Why is that? One obvious reason is money. There are always people looking to profit from a great idea or concept. That being said, it’s rather difficult to sell values or principles, so they turn them into ‘absolutes’, products and services.

But not everyone is in it for the money. Some people actually have good intentions regarding agile software development but still fall prey to the ‘absolute’ principle. Why?

The vast majority of people has difficulty and don’t relate well with ambiguity and intangible items. Since the dawn of civilization, man has invented and created tangible artefacts to relate and communicate feelings, intuitions, values, and principles. Religions are a great example of this phenomenon. They arise from a pure and inherent need of mankind to represent intangibles, values and principles through gods, beings, things, processes or tools.

Having an agile mindset supposes that an individual is comfortable with complexity, chaos, and the unknown. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if most, if not all the original signatories of the manifesto, were agnostic; but I digress…

Ok, back to Singapore:

The education system here has been based on the belief that cognitive capacities and hierarchy are the true elements of the propulsion to success. People in Singapore are admired for what they ‘know’, not how curious or creative they are. This has led to a huge gap in the development of leadership and creativity within individuals.

Singapore’s progressive government has lately acknowledged the lack of attention given to creativity and leadership and has introduced programs to incorporate this into MOE (Ministry Of Education) curriculums. But there is still a huge hill to climb.

Parents are an important factor in the equation. They pressure their children to follow the rules, the process, to become knowledgeable… not to inspect, question and adapt. Because of this, it becomes all too natural that individuals feel the need to have structure, processes and tools, to have something tangible to relate to.

The extent to which people need to view things as absolutes here is overwhelming; especially in the way they talk. In Singapore, “You must…” is a very common way to start a sentence, leaving little or no space for creativity or other perspectives.

I often ask development teams and managers: “What would an agile software development team or process in your organization look like if Scrum, XP, Lean, SAFe and the other frameworks did not exist?” A sense of uneasiness immediately sets in and they become uncomfortable.

Agility requires a certain level of comfort with chaos and unknowingness and also an acceptance that what is known may just not be the truth.

As Dave Thomas puts it, people get trapped in the “what” and “how” and all too often forget about the “why”.

The good news is that Singapore has evolved technically and culturally faster than any other country in the last 50 years, a very short time span considering their starting point. It’s actually quite a paradox when you think about it. Why would they even want to be agile after having accomplished what so few countries have accomplished?

So at this point I feel compelled to question, inspect and adapt my initial statement:

Agile software development is not working in Singapore’s organizations.

This begs to ask the following question:

“With such a great example in a country that has adapted itself and become a world leader in so many domains, why are organizations looking to adopt agile software development?”

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