Sunday, November 22, 2009

Agile 2009 - Day 3 - 26th August - Placebo

Things have gone smoothly (and busy) since last post so I am back to finish my report about Agile 2009. On Wednesday, during the morning I was assigned to Robert Biddle's talk about "Activity Theory for Manifesting Agile" which was a very good and a bit too complicated for me. Since I was working couldn't get any notes so I'll skip it just like Johanna Hunt and Rachel Davies' "Telling Your Stories: Why Stories are important for your team" workshop. The workshop was pretty fun and I managed to help a little. A brief description would say that it consisted in getting people together to invent stories they've been through and listening to other people repeating them. Interesting results but I can't detail them by lack of notes.

So for Wednesday afternoon I got a little more time. Not knowing what to attend to, I wandered around during the first slot and ended up (very luckily) at Linda Rising's "Agile: placebo or real solution?" session. Best thing that could happen to me was to get into that one. Amazing talk.

Linda started telling us about what is the placebo effect. This effect is now know to exist for a fact and its outcomes are pretty impressive: about 30% of sick people get better no matter what is the medicine that is given to them.
She explained that quite a few experiments have been done regarding this effect. Those experiment show that if you get three people with the same diagnosed disease and you give them all a pill with placebo (which has absolutely no medical effect) without them know it is placebo but really believing that those pills will heal them, one of them will, indeed get better.
One important point is that the patients have to know that they are being treated. The test has absolutely no effect if the medicine is given without the patient's knowledge (hidden in the food or water or applied during sleep). The consciousness of being taken care off is of great importance for the effect to take place.
There are many more experiments that show off that if there is anything that points to a fake, no results are shown. If the patients are not confident that the medicine will help them (if the doctor shows uncertainty, if they've heard from friends that it doesn't work, etc.), the effect also does not present itself.
From those experiments, we can conclude that since belief and awareness of treatment are essentials, it is our own body and mind that makes it so that we get better.

Having introduced us for this clinical view of the placebo effect, Linda talked about experiments that were run in order to identify why would some patients (not always to same) respond to placebo and others wouldn't. From some brain analysis, it looks like there are two groups of people. People which she called "sheeps" that are more influenced by their unconscious and people which stick much more with their conscious called "goats".
This doesn't mean that you either a sheep or a goat. People can behave like sheep on certain situations and like goat on others. It so happens that the brain activity of people being treated by the placebo effect is very similar to the activities recorded on sheep behavior.
So it is people's unconscious that is capable of healing a disease by itself.

And what is the relation of such medical results with agile software development? Well, Linda asks us whether all we've been talking about is just placebo and people were just looking for a medicine to improve their situation or is it that there is really an improvement by applying agile methods?

The answer she provides is a simple one: who cares? As long as it works, let's keep doing it! She gave this end a very scary religious connotation as she brought some people up-front and started talking like a priest with "Oh yeah brother! Amem!" and stuff like that. It was a fun joke but a bit scary if you saw people joining her (they were also having fun).

Anyway, the whole talk was a very interesting one. Sometimes just having someone with authority (a consultant) come in and use whatever claiming it will solve the problems can solve them even if is nothing special. Better think about it when you are facing a problem with a group.


André Faria Gomes said...

Very Nice Hugo. Linda's researchs are always really amazing.

Unknown said...

Thought provoking stuff. Reminds me of the Hawthorne effect.

Daniel Cukier said...

Linda Rocks!!!