Agile Musicians

I’ve been accused of seeing examples of agile everywhere, which I think is probably true, but I was just watching a video by my favourite band about their progress on the latest album and I couldn’t help but see agile parallels. In this video they talk about how they have been jamming together, which to me feels like small experiments – they try something new and get feedback on whether it’s worth pursuing or putting aside.

They’ve made a list (“a long shortlist” according to Pete!) of pieces that they think are worth developing, moving them from rough experiments to more polished songs. It’s not a stretch to see that in software product terms: a proof of concept needs reworking to bring it up to production quality.

Even though Marillion is a 5-piece band, they consider Mike (the producer) as one of the team because they recognise that they need his talents to bring their efforts to fruition. I’ve known developers who are individually very talented but the real magic happens when they work as a team; the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.

I like Steve Hogarth’s analogy of making a record to “a planet exploding backwards”, but I don’t know if this has a software equivalent. Fortunately, we don’t have “months and months of nothing” 🙂
Maybe that’s how product features evolve sometimes – building on small stories to create epics and then the epics come together to form a feature. We do decompose features into epics and then into stories, but I don’t think I’ve seen it happen backwards as H describes it.

Ideas can come from anywhere – absolutely! This is why it’s important for dev teams to treat each other equitably – an idea isn’t better just because it comes from someone with more experience or further up the corporate ladder.

When the band isn’t together in the studio they’re tinkering with ideas at home. As an ex-developer, I know I would often do research outside of work … back before we had Google and Stack Overflow to help 🙂 Even if I wasn’t actively thinking about it, I know there was always some degree of subconscious processing happing because suddenly I’d have a breakthrough.

Everyone enjoys themselves and enjoys working together. It’s hard to be creative when you’re not enjoying it. Yes, musicians can write sad songs; I wonder if there’s an equivalent for software engineers? Can you look at someone’s design solution and tell what mood they were in at the time?

A bit later in the video, they’re talking about postponed tour dates. Ian says “it’s really important to get out of this studio and in front of an audience, because it makes you realise why you’re doing it”. Customer feedback! OK, they will get a fantastic reception regardless because it will be so long since the last tour (thanks to COVID).

Of course, the one big difference is that once Marillion release the new album, that’s it – no updates, no patches, no hotfixes. Regardless of the feedback, that release is done. Not that it matters though – I’m sure it will be amazing!

I’m definitely not a musician, but I’m sure there are many people who understand both agile and making music – do you agree there are analogies?