My Arxta-Moment

Stick around long enough in the consulting business, and you might notice something I will coin the Arxta-Moment in this blog entry. I’m pretty sure, I’m not the first one to notice this, yet, I’m unaware of someone giving it a name. Let’s explore some history, and look for some advice from Jerry.

Craftsmanship over Crap

Uncle Bob Martin probably had his Arxta-Moment back in 2008. At the Agile conference, he held a keynote with the key message, that they forgot to include a fifth value pair in the Agile manifesto: Craftsmanship over Crap. Eventually, after the conference, he reframed it to really mean Craftsmanship over Execution, and the Software Craftsmanship movement started to form shape later in that year. I did not attend the Agile 2008 conference. Mostly, I read about the keynote at the time from Gojko’s blog.

Uncle Bob Martin was among the people at the 2001 Snowbird, Utah meeting where the group ended up writing down the Agile Manifesto. Basically, he organized the event and got the group together. Merely seven years later, Uncle Bob noticed that people became more interested in the latest tools around Agile development rather than trying to incorporate the message at the core of the whole movement. People and Interactions over Processes and Tools over the span of merely seven years had become merely a suggestion you don’t need to follow if you are a tool vendor – or find the excuse to work in a distributed company, potentially with more than ten teams, and more than ten persons per team.

Uncle Bob, in his keynote at the Agile 2008, tried to bring back some of the original ideas around the movement. Eventually, his whole movement sparked a new movement on its own.


Merely a year later, another attendee of the Agile Manifesto meeting, Brian Marick, held a couple of talks on artisanal retro-futurism crossed with team-scale anarcho-syndicalism, or Arxta in short. If you want to know what these terms refer to, check out the talk from Marick on his site.

Marick’s core message here was, that Agile used to be about tearing down cubicle walls on the weekend because the team was convinced they could work better in this way. Over time, Agile became “at least my work does not suck as much as it used to”. In the talk, Marick tries to bring back some of the initial inspiration that sparked the whole movement.

Basically, Marick had quite similar concerns at the time as did Uncle Bob one year prior. I recall, at the time, I noticed other folks from the Agile field having similar thoughts. Joshua Kerievsky eventually came up with Modern Agile, Alistair Cockburn concluded with the Heart of Agile, and so on. I picked “my Arxta-Moment” as the title for this blog entry since I consider Marick’s points as describing the effect in the probably funniest way.

The Law of Raspberry Jam

At some point, I noticed how all these Arxta-Moments I described basically have been described to some extent by Jerry Weinberg in The Secrets of Consulting:

The Law of Raspberry Jam
The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets.

The Secrets of Consulting, page 11, , 1986, Jerry Weinberg, Dorset House

Jerry describes that the more knowledge about programming started to spread, training programs for programming went from six weeks programs to three-day training, and eventually became thinner and thinner, or more shallow in the knowledge that was transferred.

You can see how this also applies to some communities and movements. The more people are exposed to the ideas in that movement, the thinner the original ideas start to get in all minds. I think that is what happened to the Agile movement, leading to fewer and fewer of the original ideas being discussed, and maybe repeating the same messages to newcomers over and over. The movement eventually ends up not advancing beyond the original ideas. Some of the early pioneers get discouraged from the topics the movement continues to discuss, and maybe they eventually move on to greener pastures with a new movement. In hindsight, it looks to me like this is exactly what happened around the timespan of 2007-2012 in the Agile community.

My Arxta-Moment

Over the past years, I noticed how basically the same over time happened to the Software Craftsmanship movement and the German Softwerkskammer. At times, this motivated me to share some of the original ideas from the early discussions we had back in November and December 2008 that eventually lead to the formulation of the Software Craftsmanship Manifesto at the time. A couple of months after publishing the Software Craftsmanship Manifesto, someone noticed on the list that there were 100.000 or so signatories under the manifesto, and wondered what that meant. Someone on the list just replied: “This means there are 100.000 people fighting crappy code.”

That core message is still at the heart of my understanding of Software craft. That’s what I would like to continue to focus on when it comes to craft discussions. There are elements of Zeitgeist happening right now around the world that I don’t deny or would like to turn down, I merely would like to focus my efforts around the initial idea that motivated me to co-organize an unconference around the movement, and get back to exchanging thoughts on fighting crappy code. I appreciate Zeitgeist topics coming into discussions. In fact, in the early days, I recall Jason Gorman bringing up the topic of the gender problem in Craftsmanship, I think it was back in 2009 or 2010. I appreciate such discussions happening. However, I would like to get back to spending my time and energy fighting crappy code. That does not make the other topics irrelevant. It’s more of a prioritization question.

Probably I am following Jerry’s advice from More Secrets of Consulting here in the Lew of Strawberry Jam:

The Law of Strawberry Jam
As long as it has lumps, you can never spread it too thin.

More Secrets of Consulting, page 3, 2001, Jerry Weinberg, Dorset House

As long as some more people continue to fight crappy code, the movement is not spread too thin. Let’s see where this might lead to.

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