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Agile Programming and Spirituality

Posted by Chance on July 20, 2010

Note: For those who don’t program but are interested in spiritual matters, you may want to read on despite the boring first paragraph.

I don’t exactly have my pulse on cutting edge thought in programming, but one of the leading philosophies is that of Agile.  One of the big ideas of Agile is that there is minimal planning and design up front.  Instead of having a huge requirements phase, design phase, implementation, and testing, like the waterfall model, these phases are smaller and done many times.  That is, the requirements and design do not involve the entire project but the work done the next two weeks, and the same goes for implementation and testing.  The process repeats again after two weeks.  The idea is that programmers and managers are more adaptable to change as the project is centered around short iterations instead of a year worth of planning. (I’m probably butchering the explanation of Agile – see Wikipedia link)

When being exposed to a philosophy, even if it involves something that doesn’t answer life’s biggest questions, I always like to compare it to the Bible.  Is there anything true in the spiritual realm that would actually validate Agile Programming?

Some verses suggest that it does.  The Bible seems to illustrate the idea of not planning too far ahead.  Jesus does say not to worry about tomorrow; I don’t think this means to totally disregard tomorrow, but I do think it says something about focus – be concerned about things you can actually do today.   The book of James says:

13Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

There are several applications for this passage, but again, I think the idea is not to look too far ahead, simply because we don’t know what will happen. I don’t think that means we can’t think about it at all and sometimes we don’t have a choice in long term plans. But I think the important thing is that we recognize things can change.
Sometimes in the Bible God would give someone the big picture, such as when He told Abraham he would be the father of many nations. However, it seemed that God still guided him step by step and it wasn’t clear how Abraham would get to where he was supposed to be.

Perhaps the difference between our lives and a project is that in our lives, there is a master planner that directs our life, so I don’t know if the analogy can be taken too far. However, I think both are similar in that we take it a little bit at a time.


2 Responses to “Agile Programming and Spirituality”

  1. Chance said

    One could take this post to mean we shouldn’t plan at all; but the Bible says at various times to seek wise counsel. Still, I believe there is an important aspect of Christianity that involves living day by day. Maybe I’m way off base’ I’d be curious about other people’s thoughts.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your article, and it passed some time at the end of my shift 🙂

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