Agile Forest

Find your path to agility with Renee Troughton

Indoctrination is the process of inculcating ideasattitudescognitive strategies or a professional methodology (see doctrine). It is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.


Do we teach through repeated instructions? Yes, I see this often. Inculcating check.

Do we present a vision of a practice or approach being positive or negative? Agile manifesto – yes, Waterfall negatively viewed. Attitudes check.

Metacognition is defined as “cognition about cognition”, or “knowing about knowing.” It can take many forms; it includes knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem solving.

Do we use cognitive strategies? Yes. Are we cognizant of them? Yes.

Do we often treat ourselves as a professional methodology? Yes.

The term indoctrination came to have awkward connotations during the 20th century, but it is necessary to retain it, in order to distinguish it from education. In education one is asked to stand as much as possible outside the body of accumulated knowledge and analyze it oneself. In indoctrination on the other hand, one stands within the body of knowledge and absorbs its teachings without critical thought.

Are we educating or teaching and allowing critical thought? This is the big question and the key differentiator.

Firstly it depends on the trainer and the coach. I would say most professional Agile training I have seen (and yes I would include CSM in this) don’t allow critical thought. The exception to this rule is what I have heard of Alistair Cockburn’s advanced training which begins with a critical look of Agile and positive look on Waterfall.

So what about the coaches? Most coaches I know would respond positively to critical thought. But do we actively enable it? I am not so sure we do a good job of this.

Which practices have empirical proof that they are beneficial? Ten years and how much data do we have about whether pair programming is really better? Yes I know the point is always made ‘but no one will pay for the same software to be created twice’ – but have we tried to get a real answer on this? Scientists study all sorts of things – why is it that Agile practices and techniques have such little data behind them? No one is willing to pay for it (except maybe Scott Ambler). Maybe as a community we should start working together and get some real information behind us so that we can respond strongly against critical thought.

5 thoughts on “Do we indoctrinate into Agile?

  1. We do indoctrinate into Agile, at least some of the time. That is often a necessary introduction approach for some people – they need to do it first, and learn why otherwise. (Other people need it the other way around, of course). The important part is to make sure it doesn’t stay as indoctrination – you can’t do reflective improvement if you don’t develop an understanding of how it works.

    As for evidence – there are studies on it. Pairing, for example, was studied extensively by Laurie Williams back in 2000, and that research has been built upon. A Google Scholar query for pair programming references since 2006 ( brings back nearly 3000 articles. A similar search for “test driven development” finds over 3300 articles. A better question is: “why doesn’t this get back to the wider community?”

    1. Ok. Finally had time to look at the link. I came across scholar the other day – in my ignorance how long has it been there.

      Anyway the one the peaked my interest the most was

      “Several experiments on the effects of pair versus solo programming have been reported in the literature. We present a meta-analysis of these studies. The analysis shows a small significant positive overall effect of pair programming on quality, a medium significant positive overall effect on duration, and a medium significant negative overall effect on effort. However, between-study variance is significant, and there are signs of publication bias among published studies on pair programming. A more detailed examination of the evidence suggests that pair programming is faster than solo programming when programming task complexity is low and yields code solutions of higher quality when task complexity is high. The higher quality for complex tasks comes at a price of considerably greater effort, while the reduced completion time for the simpler tasks comes at a price of noticeably lower quality. We conclude that greater attention should be given to moderating factors on the effects of pair programming.”

      So good on quality (no surprises), good for time (a little surprised), poor for cost (not really surprised but nice to see a study was done for it, but I am guessing no study was done on the overall cost of how this was reflected through quality…. and hence same problem again, not all the data was right).

      The comments even reflect the ‘bias’ as being potentially poor studies.

      And finally, when I wanted to look into this report in more detail so that I wasn’t talking out of my backside… IT COSTS $20. THIS IS THE REASON WHY NONE OF US KNOW ANY METRICS, WE DON’T WANT TO PAY FOR IT… well by we I mean me. Not my own personal money. And really $20 is a lot (when you have kids and a mortgage it is) and yes I know it was someone’s time, but it is a summary of other peoples thoughts.

      /endrant But truly thanks for forcing my brain down this path. I will continue to process.

  2. Great point Robert. Do you think this is because there is no one way or body of knowledge?

  3. Jordan says:

    Let’s see…interesting post.

    By indoctrinate do you mean browbeat/brainwash?

    I agree with studies, but I’m troubled by your suggestion that you can “respond strongly AGAINST critical thought”.

    So you want studies that back up the fact that agile is great, but are not wanting studies that show that agile is hollow?

    Why shouldn’t we have studies that show the facts, be they good or bad; that show where agile is appropriate and where it isn’t.

    I’m all in favor of unbiased studies, but I’m not in favor of studies that are geared to favor particular outcomes.


    1. Hi Jordan,

      Thanks for popping in. I mean indoctrinate in its purest definition above. Semantically many associate it with browbeating, I probably wouldn’t go so far as brainwashing (I’m not a big fan of mind abuse).

      I definitely agree we should look at the good and the bad.

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