More on Agile methodologies and lawsuits

Two good responses to my recent post about Agile methodologies and vulnerability to lawsuits. Bill Anderson points out that Agile methodologies can be win-win: “Visible and confirmable system behavior might avoid mis-understandings about expectations for customers, users, and developers.” I agree, but I think increasing your odds of success might not mitigate a potentially bigger downside. What happens if your client’s internal contact leaves the company, and her replacement is much more antagonistic? What happens if your client is bought out by another company, and the new owners decide to run a stringent legal review of previous contracts? These are all remote possibilities, of course, but if a lawsuit is a possibility, they’re potentially disastrous scenarios. And it’s those remote possibilities that lead companies to add otherwise unnecessary safeguards—such as lots of fixed contracts and verbose documents.

Kris Johnson takes the opportunity to lament the arrogance of methodologists of all stripes:

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who think they know the One True Way to develop all software, and promote a set of very-specific “best practices” that any True Professional must follow.

While I agree with this assessment, I’d also point out that having many methodologists can be a saving grace when it comes to litigation—as long as those methodologists don’t all agree. A lack of consensus might help in defending your own practices. The majority of software vendors might rely on heavy documents and static processes, but the agile minority is healthy, vocal, and has big success stories under its belt.

Diversity of opinion is a valuable thing: This is worth keeping in mind when programmers argue for stronger professional organizations as a way to elevate the craft. At a certain point, such organizations reinforce their idea of professionalism not just positively, but negatively, by explicitly working against those who practice in unapproved ways. The American Medical Association, for example, once lobbied against both chiropractors and acupuncturists.

Ultimately, most of the people involved—even, I’ll allow, some of the lawyers—are motivated by a decent goal: Software should be more reliable, and it should cost less. But short of punishing gross negligence and deception, I don’t know what good it does to involve lawyers and judges. There are lots of problems in the world. Most of them can’t be solved in a court of law.

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