Imagine you return home one day and there in your living room is a talking horse. After the necessary introductions and asking where it came from, you fall into conversation. Many pleasant days of equine interaction follow as you enjoy the unexpected insights of your new companion. So much so that you forget the fact that it is a horse. Until the first time you invite a third party round...
Overlooking the obvious and forgetting that it is potentially shocking can easily happen if you only keep company with people who hold similar views to yourself. When an outsider to the group joins in, they may be startled by your commonly-held assumptions.
That was the experience I had at the IDM’s Networking and Knowledge event covering the relationship between Marketing and IT. A valuable component of the evening was the discussion of competing project management methodologies - waterfall versus agile. What makes agile attractive to marketers is its use of stories to define what a user needs out of a technology project.
It was a casual remark that revealed the peculiar origins of agile’s user stories - in the works of Ayn Rand. If your only exposure to this author was Mad Men’s Don Draper reading a copy of Atlas Shrugged, you might not be aware just how controversial this writer turned philosopher can be. George Monbiot described her as “the new right’s version of Marx” and wrote that “her psychopathic ideas made billionaires feel like victims and turned millions of followers into their doormats.”
At the heart of Rand’s philosophy is the concept of Objectivism, seeing man as a heroic being and his moral purpose the pursuit of happiness, while his noblest activity is productive achievement. As a fugitive from Stalinist Russia in the 1920s, she had strong objections to centralised government and advocated extreme individualism.
This has given her a central place in the heart of America’s right, especially the Tea Party, which uses her thinking to support its goal of an end to big government. It is hard to overstate the extent to which these political views, which have had a strong influence on the mainstream right in the US, would stand out as extremist if voiced in the UK. Even UKIP might think twice before adopting her stance.
So how did Rand come to be associated with a software development methodology? The Agile Methodology was conceived in 2001 and although it does not explicitly state any links, its principles seem to channel those contained in Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead. In it, an architect battles against a resistant establishment and refuses to compromise on his vision.
That is a tempting model for software developers who believe they could deliver the perfect application if not for the obstacles presented by clients, users, hardware platforms, etc. (It’s a view much favoured by advertising creatives, hence Draper’s interest in the author.)
User stories further underpin this philosophy in their apparent adoption of individual reason to defeat collective obstacles. If you can provide sufficient validation for your self-interested demands, you will triumph, this methodology appears to say.
Whether marketers will fall for this in the same way is not clear, although they are already a long way down the road of believing themselves to be rational, heroic and faced with dumb nay-sayers. Adopting agile may get that marketing automation project up and running quicker. Just remember that, for all the sense it may speak, you are still talking to a horse.