Empiricism in Agile

Empiricism in Agile

Scrum is founded on empirical process control theory or empiricism which asserts knowledge comes from experience and that decisions should be based on what is known.

To support these principles, Scrum uses iterative, incremental development to improve the predictability of results and control risk. Scrum’s philosophy stands on three pillars: transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

Transparency ensures the people managing the delivery of the final customer outcome have visibility and understanding of the process so they can determine when something has been done correctly or flag problems as early as possible. Scrum promotes an easy and transparent flow of information and supports an open work culture, through daily standups, sprint meetings, artefacts, product backlogs and burndown charts.

Inspection The agile process should be inspected frequently to detect unacceptable variances in the process. Daily Scrum meetings inspect progress towards a sprint goal. Sprint Review and Planning meetings inspect progress towards a release goal.

Adaptation If the inspection reveals aspects of the process that are outside acceptable limits, and the resulting product would be unacceptable, the process should be adjusted as quickly as possible. Sprint retrospectives are used to determine longterm process improvements, while daily standups can highlight obstacles and impediments quickly.

Empiricism what does it mean?

In philosophy, Empiricism is the view that all rationally acceptable beliefs or propositions are justifiable or knowable only through experience.

Empiricism Crash Course… if you want the specifics

But what is the alternative to empiricism?

Rationalism vs Empiricism

It’s worth comparing empiricism to the alternative rationalism, so you can question its validity as the best method for problem-solving in agile product development. If we live by the philosophies of Agile we should constantly be reviewing all aspects of agile and ensure we understand the merits of Empiricism so we don’t necessarily discount the alternatives for decision-making out of hand.

Be rational

Rationalism promotes the belief that knowledge can be gained outside of experience. In fact, rationalism essentially functions with the notion that experience isn’t necessary to acquire knowledge that reality itself has an inherently logical structure. (A deep concept to consider I know, but I like to make you think!) This is the flip-side to empiricism.

Rationationalists believe your senses can betray you and they can be tricked to perceive a different reality, for example, if they view an optical illusion.

In Rationalism, knowledge is derived from:

  1. Intuition & Deduction: applying principles to draw conclusions. For example, all triangles have 3 angles, the knowledge of this proposition is NOT derived from experience but from REASON,
  2. Innate Knowledge: ideas or concepts that constitute the mind’s ability to think are innate (imprinted within us from birth), and
  3. Reason: using logic to find conclusions.

Rationalists share the view we are all born with innate knowledge and that we gain knowledge without experience through the use of reason. Rationalists believe that information gathered through the SENSES are NOT accurate and could be distorted and that knowledge can only be attained, not through experience, but through PURE REASON. Rationalism applies logic and mathematics, meaning that there is a calculated and reasoned approach to conclusions or the truth.

Why empiricism?

Much of science is founded on empiricism principles, a philosophical belief that our knowledge of the world is based primarily on our sensory experiences and that the mind is a “blank sheet” and that humans fill their mind with ideas as they experience the world through the five senses. (Think you only have 5 senses, you may have 33 – https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/01/humans-have-more-than-5-senses/ ). 

Aristotle was wrong and there are more than 5 senses

Empiricists assert that our acquired knowledge and learning is based on our observations and perceptions through our experiences. Based on our conclusions we may alter our theories and improve our knowledge as we learn from our mistakes. So over time our knowledge expands and adapts as we see the results from our experiments in life.

In Scrum, an empirical process is implemented where progress is based on observation and experimentation instead of detailed, upfront planning and defined processes.

So is Empiricism right?

Empiricism is seen as simpler and that if innate knowledge is found in the mind it is unobservable and ineffectual. How would you know what the colour blue looks like if you were born blind? The only way to come to have the idea of blue is to experience it with your senses.

Rationalists counter this with claims that morality is innate since we cannot experience things like justice, human rights, moral duties, moral good and evil with our five senses.

Rationalists claim Empiricism undermines creativity. According to Empiricism, you can combine things, separate them, and nothing else. With Rationalism, we come to experience with ready-made tools for creativity.

According to Empiricism, human beings can be controlled and manipulated exceptionally easily. If we are nothing other than what we experience, then we should be able to be made to do whatever we’re taught. Rationalism has it that there is an invariable core (call it “human nature”) that refuses to be manipulated, which is what makes us unique.

So, in conclusion, I’m left to wonder if Rationalism has a place in the creative development of agile products, and that Empiricism may help to build upon known layers, but that each theory should be utilised so we can produce the best solutions. I’m certainly going to read more on the subject and not discount either, just yet.