The Tao of Agile

Software development philosophy in the words of Bruce Lee.


All of the following quotes are taken from The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, the best-selling collection of Bruce Lee’s personal notes on his journey to self-knowledge through philosophy and martial arts.


There is no fixed teaching. All I can provide is an appropriate medicine for a particular ailment.

Design Sprints. User stories. Event storming. Standup meetings. Continuous integration. Planning poker. Test-first. Kanban. Scrum.

Despite what you’ve been told, none of these things are guaranteed to solve your team’s troubles. There is no fixed teaching, there is no universally “correct” way to develop software.

But there is a medicine for your team’s particular sickness.

How can one respond to the totality with partial, fragmentary pattern? Set patterns, incapable of adaptability, of pliability, only offer a better cage. Truth is outside of all patterns.

How can a 13 page Scrum Guide, a 200 page project management book, a 2-day seminar on Scrum Patterns, prepare you to respond to every real-life scenario you will face?

How could any fixed teaching contain the answers to the variety of troubles your team will encounter?

Of course, they can not.

Maturity does not mean to become a captive of conceptualization. It is the realization of what lies in our innermost selves.

The truth of how to create a team that skillfully dominates every problem they face, how to “become agile,” lies within you.

Only you can fully know your self, so only you can find your solution, not through application of the rules of your processes, but through honest introspection and discovery.

Do not deny the classical approach simply as a reaction, for you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there.

Of course mastery of the tools is necessary. There is nothing wrong with certification courses and books, nothing wrong with standup meetings and design sprints. They are valuable tools. To abandon them would be as much a mistake as expecting them to be your organization’s solution.

Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right moment.

Go ahead and learn how to conduct a fruitful Scrum sprint retrospective, how to lead a design sprint. Branch out. Explore. Experiment. Learn anything.

Observe techniques without judgment.

Do this, and when the time is right, you may have the tool that you need for the moment’s difficulty, ready to strike.

The height of cultivation runs to simplicity. It is not the daily increase but daily decrease — hack away the unessentials!

Adding the rules of process rarely accomplishes more than decreasing a team’s ability to respond to change and turning work into a job.

Keep it simple. Aim to remove every impediment.

The ideal development process would be to write bug-free code immediately and save it directly to production. Always ask: how can we approach closer to that ideal?

Hack away the unessentials. Simplify process.

Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just a punch, a kick was just a kick. After I’d studied the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick.

Agility takes three forms.

Before they were engineers, your coders were already Agile. They were at home working on personal projects, churning out working software fast and for the fun of it. This innocent agility lacks the finesse of enterprise mastery, but it certainly gets things done.

Then come the tools. They slow us down but give developers the structure and processes that make us professionals, experts, and a team. More importantly, the tools give us a path to seeing our shortcomings that, if we will follow it, will lead us to continual self-discovery.

Unfortunately, it is in this second agility, and the comfort of its familiar methods, where most teams remain.

How can there be methods and systems to arrive at something that is living? To that which is static, fixed, dead, there can be a way, a definite path, but not to that which is living. Do not reduce reality to a static thing and then invent methods to reach it.

The third agility is what we should seek. It is a team that no longer needs many of their old tools, which would just get in the way. These people truly know one another. They communicate with ease. Having failed together countless times and learned from each experience, they fear no failure. They create fluidly as a second nature, and they’re having fun doing it.

If you ask, they will explain to you their process—they may even write a book about it. But it wouldn’t work the same for you anyway. It is theirs, and it was hard-won.

The instinct to follow and imitate seems to be inherent in most martial artists, instructors and students alike. This is partly due to human tendency and partly because of the steep traditions behind multiple patterns of styles. Consequently, to find a refreshing, original, master teacher is a rarity. The need for a “pointer of the way” echoes.

Executives, managers, and developers alike are all craving leadership from outside themselves. And they are finding it: in the successful traditions of those that came before them, no matter how bad a fit those old methods are for their own present-day problems.

The second-hand artist blindly following his sensei or sifu accepts his pattern. As a result, his action and, more important, his thinking become mechanical. His responses become automatic, according to set patterns, making him narrow and limited.

Second-hand project managers, ScrumMasters, leaders blindly following the rules they have learned in books and certification courses — these people have become all too common.

What you need is the rare master; a person who combines knowledge with a refreshing, original, unique vision not found in books or training seminars.

Find that rare person.

Or look within yourself and become them.

[It] is not a matter of seeking knowledge or accumulating stylized pattern, but is discovering the cause of ignorance. Self-knowledge is the basis because it is effective, not only for the individual’s martial art, but also for their life as a human being.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, I’d appreciate a “Recommend” click below, and as always, notes are also very welcome.

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