Is Agile Profitable?

Yesterday I read (but didn’t much enjoy) a post about Agile suckage. And it got me thinking about why Agile is a good idea for business.

I’ve been thinking about this because I couldn’t give a rats ass about profit. That statement might come back to haunt me someday, when I want to be fascinated by profit so I can work somewhere.

And I do care about value. I care about people creating things, and having the things we create. I care about interaction, and ease, and comfort and fun. I figure those things are related to profit, but I honestly haven’t fully grokked profit, in the ways that would make me crave it and so learn about how to make it blossom.

How does business decide what to do?

I’m honestly wondering here. I used to think that all business decisions were based on profit. You know, the bottom line. But now I’m not so sure.

For example, it’s people that make business decisions, so even if some folks in a business want “ethics” to take a back seat, people are going to avoid doing certain things. Businesses don’t do just anything to make a buck. I’ll leave aside how much is because of laws and how much is because business are made of human beings — people will be debating forever about how “ethical behavior” works. My point is that there are factors other than money that determine what businesses do.

It’s not just money vs. ethics, though. There’s also business longevity. Sustainability involves things like reputation, employee retention (and health), I dunno… building maintenance?

How long term is long term?

My point is that shifting to Agile isn’t just about whether this year, you’ll find your code monkeys have churned out more usable code. It’s just not.

It’s about code that lasts, employees that last, a work environment that isn’t toxic, and about things that people love and desire, at the core of our beings. Things like help us function like the spectacular thinking-beings we are.

Peace, love & understanding is how people function best.

I’m really glad that’s true. I am delighted in research and analysis that tells us, for example, that not only does punishment hamper performance, but people are not as good at solving creative problems when there’s a reward offered. (Link is to a Daniel Pink TED talk.)

But even if it weren’t true, it actually matters how you treat people. Doesn’t it? Agile is about treating people as human beings.

I’m happy to talk about how Agile increases profits, produces better code, produces it faster, solves other business problems. That’s great. We can talk about how and whether it does those things, and how we might make it do them better. But if you’re going to tell me that if Agile doesn’t increase profits by 30% the first year, it’s not worth doing, I don’t buy it.

What if profits and productivity stayed exactly the same? What if it cost a little bit? What if we weren’t sure what would happen to profits? Once we get a picture of how we could start treating people like people, isn’t it worth it, even compelling, to try it?

(Seriously, watch that TED talk. Maybe even if you’ve seen it before.)

Leave a Reply