Agile is for cavemen


I am currently reading The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. In the book, Gladwell quotes the anthropologist S.L. Washburn:

Most of human evolution took place before the advent of agriculture when men lived in small groups, on a face to face basis. As a result human biology has evolved as an adaptive mechanism to conditions that have largely ceased to exist. Man evolved to feel strongly about few people, short distances and relatively brief intervals of time; and these are still the dimensions of life that are important to him.

Once you think about it, it sounds so obvious that humans are still wired as they were back when they dwelt in caves. It is therefore also natural to feel comfortable in a work environment that reproduces this kind of setting.

In Agile, small teams of five to nine people are recommended. Agile also recommends that team members be collocated, in a single room. Those practices aim at maximising the efficiency of communication and team work while minimising the required amount of ceremony and waste in communication. Those therefore facilitate face-to-face communication as well as osmotic communication, as Alistair Cockburn names it. Agile is therefore an approach to software development that befits our cavemen brains.

Dispersed teams and informal communication channels are thus completely unnatural. Nevertheless, even though our brains haven’t evolved much since the times of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, our societies tend to put more and more distance between people while offering loads of means of communicating and sharing any form of information.

Food for thought…

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