Geocentric Agile

Agile is Geocentric.

To almost everyone though all of human history it has been reasonable to see the universe in the following way:

  • The Earth is standing still
  • The Earth is the center of the universe
  • The Sun goes around the Earth in a circle
  • The Moon goes around the Earth in a circle
  • The Stars move around the Earth in many different circles
  • Planets move around the Earth in strange circular ways

This model of the universe feels right and natural to almost everyone. It is a good explanation for our experience and is supported by the eyewitness evidence, it is what we ‘obviously’ see. This model of the universe eventually took on a formal name, the Geocentric model of the Universe.

For all practical purposes, using this model allowed us to predict things with a degree of accuracy. It helped us make calendars, estimate times to plant crops, and navigate ships. The model worked for many practical purposes.

As long as 2300 years ago thinkers have looked at the same eyewitness evidence of the universe and proposed a different model. A model which placed the Sun at the center. However, for almost 1800 years this model attracted little attention. Most lived their entire lives never even hearing of the different model. But even if they did, it didn’t match with the models already in their heads. Also, it didn’t help them in any meaningful ways.

Nobody cared.

In the 16th century a Catholic cleric, mathematician, and astronomer named Nicolaus Copernicus used a different model to mathematically predict the motions of the heavenly bodies. His math models predicted things better. It proposed:

  • The Earth is rotating on an axis
  • The Sun is the center of a Solar System
  • The Earth orbits around the Sun in a circle
  • The Moon orbits around the Earth in a circle
  • Planets orbit around the Sun in a circle
  • Stars are far away

A lot of astronomers read his work, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. He knew it was controversial, so conveniently had it published very late in his life. Others would build upon it. Johannes Kepler improved the predictions in the model making the orbits elliptical instead of circular.  Galileo Galilei push hard on the idea that the new models might really be not just better math, but how the solar system actually was, based on his observations using telescopes.

Many people found these ideas crazy. It clearly wasn’t what they felt and observed. It might even be against the god. Galileo had to recant that it might be real. Eventually, over centuries, as evidence accumulated and technology developed, the support for the new model became overwhelming.  The Earth was not the center of the universe, the Sun was. No, strike that, by modern times, we realized the Sun was not the center of the universe either. Just a very strong force of gravity for our local solar system. It now appears, the universe has no center.

If a child was born today, and raised without this accumulated knowledge, they would grow up seeing the physical evidence around them and propose that the earth is the center of the universe and the sun goes around the earth. It is a reasonable explanation for the visceral evidence.

I go into this long history because I propose you take an idea to heart, most of what you believe about everything is Geocentric. It is perfectly reasonable to believe it. Many people around you believe it. It is a reasonable explanation of the eyewitness evidence, which I call geocentric evidence. It even makes useful predictions.

However, it is wrong. It is fundamentally and irreversibly wrong. 

Here is the rub. Models you believe about business, economics, politics, management, government, are mostly based on geocentric evidence, and are mostly wrong, even though they may currently be useful. As times change and we do dramatically more advanced things it is valuable to be less wrong. It is valuable to have better models. A geocentric model will not allow you to explore the solar system with spaceships. You will not get where you are trying to go.

A geocentric model of business and management and software development, will not get you where you are trying to go either. For or my software process readers:

Waterfall is Geocentric

It is a model for building software systems, but a poor one. It never really worked. The Waterfrall model was replaced with Agile. There is just one problem, Agile was based loosely on eyewitness observations as well, I am left with the observation that:

Agile is also Geocentric

The Agile model is better than the Waterfall model, but not as good as many believe. I propose, it is barely a model at all. The Agile Manifesto is like getting representatives from the worlds great religions together in a room and asking them what they can agree upon.

“Treat people well.”
“Don’t lie.”
“Don’t take other people’s things.”
“Be nice.”

In agile the priests give us:

“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”
“Working software over comprehensive documentation.”
“Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.”
“Responding to change over following a plan.”

In both cases the advice is good. Even helpful. But the agile manifesto is not a model. So it leaves in place the models we believe about business which are mostly wrong.

We can do better. We must do better.

By Tom (Thomas) Meloche –

first principles elon musk
What are first principles and why are they important? I recently heard an executive make an argument as to why a software initiative’s budget might be way off. The company had planned to spend 15 million and this executive was making an argument as to why it may cost more…
I once visited a company that displayed slogans all over the place written by a senior executive over the software delivery group. One of them said something akin to, "We must get rid of the notion that for quality to increase then productivity must decrease." Every time I saw them…