Agile Forest

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Recommended by Bob Marshall in a few tweets I took Martin Lindstrom’s second book on marketing with me to Austria to read predominantly because it was the most lightweight book in my backlog at 218 pages. In retrospect this was probably a bad idea – mostly because for one the hyped up quotes on the back of the book such as Newsweek’s “A page-turner” was very true. I couldn’t put this book down I found it that engaging and interesting. Read over just two nights, its stories were entertaining, informative and eye opening.

I have no understanding of marketing (so perhaps Lindstrom’s first book Brand Sense would be good for me to read) but I found this book incredibly approachable. It laid the foundation of common marketers and the importance of brand creation and recognition. Then it got into the interesting stuff – the fact that for several decades marketers have had it wrong on a number of fronts. Lindstrom makes extensive use of f MRI and SSTs to get into the brains of us and find out what really drives us to buy or not. Anti-smoking marketing is mythbusted along with interesting stories on the powerhouses of Coke, Pepsi and Nokia.

The parallels between what value people perceive marketing has verses reality and how such similar stories are heard of Agile was often on my mind whilst reading this book. Some in the software industry propose that Agile is pseudoscience that isn’t backed up by fact. The truth is – some are and some aren’t and in some ways we need to get better at measuring what is working or not. I do believe that Agile works but I am not convinced of which elements do versus don’t. I still feel some Agile teams spend too much time in upfront planning. I still feel that empowerment seems to only go so far and that timeboxing to avoid interruptions only works in some environments. But these are feelings that aren’t backed up.

The most interesting chapter was one title “I say a little prayer”. In this chapter Lindstrom compared marketing with the ten pillars of religion – belonging, a clear vision, power over enemies, sensory appeal, storytelling, grandeur, evangelism, symbols, mystery and rituals. Whilst Lindstrom was explaining how marketing similarly had the same foundations I again could see the parallels with Agile.

In jest many (including myself) have referred to Agile as a religion. But here was a clear comparison model and that scared me a little.


It is easy to see how belonging fits into agile. We create teams that work together to share a similar mission. Additionally we also have a few communities that we can belong to in a wider group.

Clear vision

The whole point of release planning, creating a backlog, sharing our understanding of the work and how big it is enables the creation of a clear vision. We want to work in an adaptive way and we know that things can change but having a big picture view is also important – just don’t spend too much time on it.

Power over enemies

Waterfall vs Agile debates anyone? 281 comments in a week for this HBR Waterfall v Agile debate shows that there is still a war on. Even religions have factional wars to differentiate themselves – sounds like internal Scrum vs Kanban wars too doesn’t it? Taking another’s rituals and terms and using them as your own also has parallels in the Agile world.

Sensory appeal

This is one of the key benefits of using Agile over other approaches. Post-it notes and system cards overload our visual sensors along with many other information radiators. Business environments generally discourage the touching elements between people, but there is tactile touching of cards on the wall. Communication is heavily used utilising our speech and listening skills. Even our sixth sense is used to estimate cards. The only sensor not used is smell… I smell an Agile opportunity!


I don’t really have to explain this one do I? User stories, user story maps, focussing questions, empathy maps, personas…


Saying a story wall is grandiose might be a bit of a stretch. Agile conferences can certainly be grandiose. Oh well, failed on this one… next?


This is one trait that has been attributed to many an Agile Coach. Do we as a community appear to reach out and secure new acolytes? I fear this is the key reason many associate Agile with religious zealotry.


Unless you count Japanese characters of Kaizen and Kanban as symbols Agile doesn’t have a strong focus on iconic symbology. That said, there are a lot of terms that are specific to the Agile community (and branch communities) that to outsiders could have the same associations and intent behind symbology – stories, product owner, scrum master, MoSCoW, poker planning… the list is extensive.


I like to think of this as the science vs people debate. Which Agile practices and methods work? Why do they work? What about them doesn’t work? But there is mystery in a different way – mystery in that requirements are to some extent unknown until we have had a conversation, mystery in that what we might deliver in the next month doesn’t match a current plan (adaptive change), mystery in each and every day when we have a Stand-up and we find out what is really happening inside of our system.


Even Scrum labels the commonly recurring activities such as Iteration Planning, Daily Stand-ups, Retrospectives, etc as rituals. Add in some wine, bread and absolution and we might just have a religion on hand.


Whether you can see the parallels or not, Buyology is a damn good book and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Now, let me find a SST and a stand-up and get started measuring.

4 thoughts on “Buyology (not Biology)

  1. Nice post, especially the contextualisation. Don’t forget Emotioneering 🙂 e.g.

    – Bob

  2. Vasco Duarte says:

    You made me want to read the book too! 🙂
    I understand your point about the similarities between the Agile movement and what the book describes as key aspects of religious practice. However, i look at it differently: i expect that some similarities exist because those aspects are what Humans have discovered convey knowledge. Sure, we have to get beyond rituals, but rituals are.necessary when we are still learning, and they help re-inforce some practices that have been successful.
    however , as a community we do need to go beyond faith in Agile and start publishing what we learn, and publish what experiments have failed, so that we can continue to develop Agile beyond the “religious” patterns in which it sometime still is.

    1. Jordan says:

      I think the patterns exist because they sway emotions, not convey knowledge.

      I think some patterns in Agile come from religion, and some come from european politics of the worst kind.

      For instance, blaming waterfall(ists) for everything that ails softwareware engineering, is not only an example of “the big lie” — it has striking parallels to a former european regime who’s mere mention is considered a third rail in debate.

      Of course there is also the scientology angle of charging a lot for training of dubious value, and labelling people who are non believers as “suppressive persons” — aka “detractors”.

      So no, I don’t think it’s just human nature — but it is human nature of a less than the best kind.


  3. Jordan says:

    Sounds like a great book 🙂 I’d read it but I already have a blog where i’ve covered most of those subjects in depth 🙂


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