What is common between Agile Methodology and the Three Monkey story? Its simplicity!

It has been some time since I have blogged about any topics associated with Agile Methodology. Quite honestly – over the last 1-2 years, I had started observing that a set of simple and beautiful guiding principles were getting over-stretched and over-strained and over-complicated by few individuals/groups/companies possibly to out-do the others or simply to rake in some money. IMHO, much to the detriment of Agile – a simple concept was getting converted into a complicated science. This is when I started switching myself off. Well, until this week…

This week I refused to attend an organization mandate to undergo training in Agile. For me, the word ‘training’ threw me off. What was there in Agile that required training and could not be learnt by simply reading? It is one thing that one does not know what Agile is (so one just has to read about it), but the premise that one needs to undergo training in it somehow creates an impression that we are dealing with something complex. Quite honestly it is not and the complexity in it is a man-made thing.  Let me explain why I felt that by giving a slightly non-related but similar example.

Almost all of you must have seen the three wise monkey picture – popularly also known as Mahatma Gandhi’s Three Monkeys (see picture below). These three monkeys represented the proverbial principle – “see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil”.

Three Monkey Methodology

Three Monkey Methodology - Is it complex to understand?

For the sake of this blog post let me call these principles as  “Three Monkey Methodology“. What I like about this methodology is that it clearly describes the three maxims (i.e. see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil) in a simple and crisp way such that it is self-explanatory to almost except possibly five (or less) years old. The additional thing which I like about this representation is that they have not tried to explain it in any more details and have left it to the understanding of the individuals as to how they would like to interpret it based on their surroundings and experiences.

Now imagine if this Methodology evolved today. I have strong feeling that in today’s world driven by hype and monetization  (analogous to what is happening to Agile Methodology) – we might have seen the following –

  • Paper or Book Titles – “Three Monkey Methodology for Product Management”; “Applying Three Monkey Methodology to Configuration Management Practices”; “Learn Three Monkey Methodology in 3 days”; “Three Monkey Methodology for Dummies”, etc.
  • Training Courses – “Three Monkey Methodology for CEOs”; “Power your Engineering Team with Three Monkey Methodology”; etc.
  • Certifications – “Certified Three Monkey Methodology Developer”; “Three Monkey Methodology – Level II Certified”; etc.
  • Marketing Messages – “We provide engineering services using Three Monkey Methodology”; “Best Three Monkey Methodology Expertise Shop in Town”; “We follow Three Monkey Methodology in all our Departments”; etc.

Once the activities or messaging such as above begins to happen, our simple Three Monkey Methodology suddenly now starts to appear or feel complex. However, hopefully you will agree with me now that this complexity is now a man-made thing and not inherent in the methodologies principles. This is exactly the same way I feel with this whole Agile thing.

Similar to Three Monkey Methodology – IMO Agile Methodology also has four maxims (check out the Agile Manifesto) written in simple yet crisp manner and left to the interpretation of the Software Practitioners for its implementation as they see fit. The hope there was that anyone who had experienced Software Development even in a slightest manner would be able to understand where these four guidelines were coming from. There-in lied the beauty and power of these four principles. Simple yet powerful enough to be individually interpreted and applied to real-word circumstantial scenarios!

In my opinion, the challenge started when few started taking the ownership of interpreting Agile and forcing that interpretation on others. This is where the essence of Agile was lost because it opened the doors for over-complications, mis-interpretations, un-required group’isms, consultants, trainers, etc. while closing the door for plain vanilla common sense. Agile was meant to be simple and it needs to remain simple. As simple as the Three Monkey Methodology!

Look forward to your thoughts and comments!

[Update|Feb. 17, 2010: Looks like there are others too who are thinking that this whole Agile and its associated certification/training beginning to sound like more of a marketing gimmick. Read the article (along with the discussions at the bottom) titled “Is Scrum Certification Having Another Makeover?” published at InfoQ.]

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One Response to “What is common between Agile Methodology and the Three Monkey story? Its simplicity!”

  1. Prashant Pund Says:

    Dear Manish,
    I happened to see this blog while searching for something else. Perhaps it is too late to comment. Sorry for the same.
    I have practised Scrum for the last 3.5 years and worked in the methodology domain for the last 10 years. Your view of Agile meant for simplicity is perfectly alright and matches my view. However, when it comes to understand an abstract manifesto which just “describes” and does not “prescribe”; it needs some more discussion/thought sharing.
    Coming to understandability of the four points of Agile Manifesto, it is really misinterpreted a lot. This prompts the need of someone really explaining it in detail. e.g. the principle to value working software over comprehensive documentation is always misinterpreted as “Agile means no documentation”. While adopting Agile methodologies, these misinterpretations play a major role that leads to the entry of a consultant. I guess as long as the software develoment has “essential” difficulties; the trainers and consultants on the methodologies will be needed.

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