Slipping through our fingers?

It was close. So close.

What's the really exiting thing about the Agile development movement? Is it getting to ship working software? That's pretty good. Is it not having to lie about status all the time? That's great too! Is it being able (and allowed, and required) to take true responsibility for our work? Wonderful stuff! But I don't think these are the best part.

I think that the best part is that we were starting to normalise the idea that programmers are valuable knowledge workers who collaborate with other valuable workers in the business as peers. Big chunks of the industry had to (re)learn how to do all that shipping and telling the truth and stuff in order to get to that point, but that's only the means. The end is to be dealt with by our paymasters as if we make a genuine contribution to our businesses. And even that is only a starting point for the really interesting stuff.

And now along come folks shouting about Lean. A lot of them are Agile folks looking (quite properly) for what to do next that's better. And the message seems to be: programmers are operators of a technical workflow, and nothing else. They pull to-do items from a queue (which someone else manages) and work them through various states of a purely technical nature until they can be handed off into production (where someone else creates value using them). Again and again and again forever. And it is claimed that if they are organised this way then they will be more efficient and shipping those to-do items than if organzied in other ways. This is almost certainly true.

In which case it is going to be hard to avoid being shoe-horned into that mode once the development managers wake up to it. Back down into the engine room. Back to being, rather more literally than before, a cog in a machine.

The Agile approach to developing software (or, something a lot like it) is gaining more and more interest because, along with the stuff about getting to look up at the stars it is actually a more productive way to develop than a lot of the incumbent approaches. If Lean is more productive again but doesn't even have that social stuff as a hidden agenda, I'm not sure that we as inhabitants of this corner of the industry will turn out to have done ourselves much of a favour.