Author: Federico Kereki, Tech Master

While current day developers are most certainly aware of agile methods and the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development”, it’s possible that their music tastes don’t lean to Jazz… and that’s a pity, because there are several interesting analogies between Agile Development and Jazz music, which I’d like to expose.

The base concepts of Agile development are well known, such as preferring

  • Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools;
  • Working Software over Comprehensive Negotiation;
  • Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation; and
  • Responding to Change over Following a Plan.

These concepts gave birth to several methods and frameworks, such as Extreme Programming (XP), Scrum, Kanban, and more, all of which do share the same concepts, while varying in the applied processes. However, we want to go deeper, into the Twelve Principles behind the Manifesto, and there we will start finding interesting analogies with Jazz… but what is that music?

Let’s consider that genre a bit. If you try to find a definition for Jazz, you’ll find that pinning down this music isn’t simple. In fact, from some points of view, you shouldn’t and cannot try to describe it… Duke Ellington, the pianist and composer, simply said “It’s all music”, and the world known Louis Armstrong was even more extreme: “If you have to ask what Jazz is [sic] you’ll never know.

Jazz spans over a century of music, and has given birth to numerous variants, from the early Dixieland style, through Swing, Bebop, Cool Jazz, up to Free Jazz, Latin Jazz, Jazz Fusion, and many more. However, there are some constant aspects, such as having a bunch of talented, proficient musicians, all great soloists on their own, playing together in order to produce high quality performances. Each musician has its own part to play, which includes both predefined and improvised music; in fact, improvisation is central to all versions of Jazz, and it can be said that no two performances are ever the same!

Nonetheless, there’s a structure in the music, so all those players can achieve synergy, producing larger results than they could on their own; there’s a method to the seeming freedom and liberty of the music! On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that we’re free to do as we please; Dave Brubeck, the pianist and composer, said it well when he commented on the apparent freedom of Jazz, saying that it’s highly disciplined: “You don’t just go out there and do anything you want.

Jazz players are well aware of the need to interact with each other, of the power of improvising new melodies and harmonies, and of the constant evolution of their music… much as product developers know that they have to cooperate in multi-disciplinary groups, developing high quality outcomes, and also evolving their own methods to be able to work out better ways to achieve their team’s goals.

From the paragraphs above, you’ll then see it’s possible to start drawing parallels between agile methodologies and their developers, and Jazz music and their musicians. So, in these notes (see what I did here?) we’ll be showing some analogies between agility and Jazz, to see if we can improvise (did it again!) better ways to work; stay tuned (!) for more!

P.S. If you want to hear some Jazz, check out a video clip from the 1956 “High Society” movie: “Now You Has Jazz”, by Bing Crosby with the Louis Armstrong band, in which you get a tongue-in-cheek explanation about how Jazz music is done! Or, if you remember the 1987 Robin Williams“Good Morning, Vietnam” movie, listen to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”. With a radically different style, Dave Brubeck was known for his original time signatures: listen for example to “Take Five” in 5/4 time, or “Blue Rondo à la Turk”, in 7/4.

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