No, it’s not the money

I totally disagree with the idea that ultimately we write software for money, for someone to make money -- or more money. I can't bear with sad statements like "well, eventually we get paid to produce revenue" or "at the end of the day what counts is the money", "we do agile to make more money" or just "show me the money!". Bullshit.

If money is the only purpose, agile methods are not going to help you!

During my years as independent developer and consultant, I've observed two primary reasons for agile methods to fail. One resides in the top management (not every manager!) whilst the other is in the technical side - the developers (not every developer!).

Top management's problem

When top managers care more about money than they do about people, sooner or later employees  feel that they are just numbers, resources and agile methods can't help. There is no point in trying to talk about Scrum or XP to those top guys, because what they really have is a crisis of values. A big problem of perception. What they really need is executive coaching, not agile practices. I don't think we should encourage them to attend agile conferences, we should rather recommend them a really good life coach, psychotherapy, meditation, yoga, sport...

Important: I am not talking about all the managers, just about some people.

Money should never be a goal in itself. We write software to solve people's problems, because we care about others and want to improve their circumstances. Or perhaps just because we enjoy doing so. Money should be just one consequence of doing our job right. The disease  that is killing our planet is cancer. When the goal of a company is just to make more money every year,  to increment the "growth", that's a cancer. Unlimited growth is cancer. It kills the human body and at a large scale it's killing the planet. Agile values and principles do not scale up in economic terms, like many other things - Jorge Uriarte talks about it in his brilliant talk in Spanish. 
Money does not buy happiness because money can't buy an eternal life and health. Rich people are never satisfied because money is not fulfilling so they become gollums - let me refer to another brilliant talk in Spanish this time by Joan Antoni Mele.

If you happen to be an employee in one of these companies don't be confused, the problem is deeper at the basis of the system, it's not your fault. There are actual reasons for you to feel the lack of purpose and hence motivation. You can try to change things within your team or area, do your best for them, learn and share in that circle but it will stop in there. It could be a good time to reflect on where and how you want to spend your energy, your life.

Developers' problem

On the other hand the reason why agile methods fail sometimes has to do with some developers. We ruin the code, remember?We must learn to say NO, to have the courage to face the truth even when it's not nice and talk about it. Of course we must deliver excellent quality software and accomplish our commitments. The XP practices are intended to promote the principles and values that help developers behave like professionals. I travel often to mentor developers in many cities and what I always find is a dramatic lack of knowledge, technical skills.  Really smart people but missing basic knowledge. Because the majority of us haven't been taught by professionals. Fortunately we can work around that, I think conferences and other events are great tools along these lines -- apart from training and mentoring. Deliberate practice is very important and communities help a lot with this. We practice together to improve our skills. The more I read about Software Craftsmanship, the more I feel on the same page. I highly recommend the book by Sandro Mancuso on the subject, I am not gonna try to repeat his inspiring words. This is why I believe less in "agile events" and "agile communities" and more in communities of practice.

If it's not money, then what is it?

You have to find it by yourself. I can tell you that I don't work for money, it just comes in as a matter of doing what I like, the best I can do it. It's not always easy, sometimes it's actually scary but it works. I like to think I wasn't born to be a money machine. The desire of being helpful to others is my driving force. I know I won't be effective if I can't get that feeling.

Daniel Pink says that our motivation comes from autonomy, mastery and purpose. These are good goals in themselves rather than means to produce money. Nice example, isn't it?

To close this post, I leave you with this powerful keynote by Martin Fowler about the role of the programmer:


  • heres_to_the_crazy_ones

    I’m sort of pondering about this subject at the moment as well. Consulting can get you a nice paycheck but it sucks the lifeblood out of you which actually value more than the money. Next on my book reading list is “Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow” and “The Power Of Starting Something Stupid” to get some thoughts straightened.

  • Carlos Ble

    That book’s title is very cool, please let me know if you like it and recommend it 😉 What I can tell you is that it’s true in my case. All the best with your career.

  • Carlos Ble

    My good friend Diego Rojas and I had a chat over the internet after this post. It was very positive. I’d like to feature some of his ideas in here as an exercises to remember then in the long term 😉

    – We should not talk about “then and us” because we are all a team. Sandro says the same in his book and I totally agree. I didn’t want to make the gap bigger with this post.
    – We need to consider people’s circumstances to find out why are they so concern about the money and from there, with that information we might be able to start up the change.
    – Innovation comes by doing things totally different so if we really want to change things we do need a completely way of thinking.

    I highly recommend my friend Diego as an executive coach and change agent:

  • Jonathan García

    Bravo, really enjoyed this post. Thanks a lot!

  • Miguel Plum

    I’m an software engineer, my main purpose is to improve software development processes in order to either:
    – increase the quality of the final product
    – increase productivity (#features/dev time)

    Both are critical to increase the profit-earning capacity of my organisation. The fact that your goal as an engineer is, and must be driven by those two metrics doesn’t mean that any mean to achieve them is justified. Stating that being driven by productivity goals make companies not caring about their own culture and social responsibility is naive and far from reality.

    You say your don’t do consulting work for money, it’s your desire of being helpful what drives your career. That’s perfectly valid and definitely honours you. But your goal is driven by one monetary figure: the potential value of your billable hour. Doesn’t mean that you must charge everyone that number, you probably even offer your services for free occasionally. But you know you’re doing a good job when your clients are satisfied, and your services are consistently requested. Guess what’s the metric for that.

    Last: unlimited sustainable growth exists, and it’s desirable. Your potential growth is only limited by your life expectancy. There are new discoveries every day, and I’m sure you learn new things from people and your own experience. We learn how to do things better, we write software faster than ever and with smaller teams. We’re more productive, and there’s no reason to limit ourselves.

  • Carlos Ble

    Unlimited growth is not sustainable, because the resources of the planet are limited. We are literally killing the planet with this crazy rhythm. We the consumers let the big corporations grow and grow in a way that is going to cause the end of the human kind, after millions of other species. We only have two choices, change or disappear.

  • Miguel Plum

    Unlimited growth can be sustainable. A growth based on massive, uncontrolled development of timber or oil industry is not sustainable. Growth based on medical progress and quality of life improvements, is sustainable. And definitely a growth based on the continuous improvement of worker skills, which is our professional activity, is sustainable.
    Growth is important. Economic stagnation just means that we’re not able to do our job better than the year before. That we haven’t learnt anything in a full year. There are tons of literature on the topic, even good coursera programs. Might worth a visit.

  • Carlos Ble

    That growth you talk about sounds good. However all the companies I know that “grow” every year, do so in a way that is not sustainable for the planet and does not care about people.

    Thank you 🙂