Flemish abstract painter Raoul De Keyser and the essence of Agile – Minesweepers and Ferries

By October 9, 2012blog

What art can teach us about Agile

Last week Raoul De Keyser deceased. He was one of Belgium’s most famous abstract painters from the last 50 years. When the writer Bernard Dewulf was interviewed on Radio1 about his career, he summarized the painter’s love for the anecdotical as follows:

When you are attentive to coincidence, it’s no coincidence anymore.

(in Dutch: Wanneer je aandacht hebt voor het toeval, is het geen toeval meer.)

This beautifully grasps what agile and lean are all about.


When problems occur during a project, people tend to be genuinely surprised. “Huh? This wasn’t a milestone on our GANTT-chart? By coincidence this extra functionality popped up just before we went live!” Does this sound familiar?

When you look at projects in an agile way, coincidence does not exist anymore. Why? An agile mindset perceives unpredictability not as coincidence but as complexity.

“Complex” is everything that lies between chaos and order. (Read more on Jurgen Appelo’s definition of Complex  or check out the Cynefin model)

Agile is about embracing the complex unpredictable nature of (software) projects and their teams. You don’t stick to a methodology, but you adapt the process throughout the project. It’s about valuing responding to change over following a plan (cfr. the Agile Manifesto)

In practice

Talk with your team at the start of the project. Anticipate together. Be very open about the fact that your process can be subject to change. Make your team a minesweeper instead of a luxurious ferry.

P.S.: Thanks @whiteponies and @johan_tre for their contributions to this post.

Further reading:

Leave a Reply