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Hackernoon logoAgile and Willie Nelson by@fmrigueiro

Agile and Willie Nelson

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@fmrigueiroFilipe Rigueiro

Product Analyst for Digital development and CEO of Uni Data.

As an agile practitioner and after my PSM1 certification I became too aware of the agile principles and the concept of Kaizen, so much so that it started to dip into my personal life and one of the things I enjoy the most — music.

I started to see agile principles everywhere even in songs.

So I decided to break down the song A Wonderfull Yesterday, from the Good Times album, by Willie Nelson from September 1969.

Who is Willie Nelson?

Willie Nelson born in Texas in 1933, is a singer, actor and activist. He was one of the main figures of outlaw country, a sub-genre of country music that developed in the late 1960s as a reaction to the conservative restrictions of the Nashville sound. Nelson has acted in over 30 films, co-authored several books, and has been involved in activism for the use of biofuels and the legalisation of marijuana (Wikipedia).

Born during the Great Depression, Willie was raised by his grandparents and wrote his first lyrics at seven years old and joined a polka band at ten. After many troubles, jobs including dishwasher, radio DJ and bassist for a cover band, Willie Nelson found his success in 1973 with the album Shotgun Willie.

So what does Willie Nelson has anything to do with Agile Development and the iterative, small improvements mentality?

Nothing really…

Is just something that stayed in my mind listening to this song while commuting. How this song can be interpreted as an Agile principle anthem.

So here we go:

First I think is important that while reading this, you are able to listen to this wonderful song, and perhaps become a Willie Nelson fan as well.

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First Verse

Today’s gonna make a wonderful yesterday
One on which I know that I can look back and smile
And with you here with me the hours have flown away
And today’s gonna make a wonderful yesterday

Let's break it down:

Today is gonna make a wonderful yesterday

Willie here expresses his desire that today will be better than yesterday. I believe this romantic song, highlighting the perpetuation of love and how every day gets better and better with his lover can be analysed from an Agile practitioner lens.

When I listen to this song sentence I am reminded of the concept of Kaizen, A Sino-Japanese word for improvement. So we can say that if while developing software using the Agile principles we can make today a wonderful yesterday.

As today we are better than yesterday, we have learned and adapted to improve ourselves and our process, so we should expect today to be better than yesterday.

One on which I know that I can look back and smile

This one where Willie imagines himself looking back and smiling on the day, on how wonderful the day was with his lover, sounds a lot like having a retrospective on an ongoing relationship.

And I can’t help but think that this applies to Agile development, as we run retrospectives at the end of each sprint, to make sure that every day is a wonderful yesterday and we are continuously improving.

This retrospective is wonderful in the eyes of Willie, as he is smiling as he reminisces, but sometimes retrospectives are not as rosy, and actions will be taken to ensure that we can have a wonderful yesterday.

And with you here with me the hours have flown away

Well, this is tricky to apply to Agile, but I will try my best.
I can see this sentence to be interpreted as being that the time flies away while we are working hard doing meaningful work worth doing, alongside a team of people we respect. As agile values Individuals and interactions over processes and tools, it is easy to think that a good relationship with co-workers, working towards a common goal makes the time fly away.

Second Verse

Today we have made a thousand and one memories
That we can recall when today is a sweet used to be
And with you in my arms the future seems so far away
And today’s gonna make a wonderful yesterday

Let’s break it down:

Today we have made a thousand and one memories

Willie Nelson loves to remember the good times with his lover. So many memories created on this wonderful day, that put yesterday to shame.

So how can we look at this sentence from an agile frame of mind?

Memories can be considered versions of working software, another of Agile values, that we can go back, inspect, and iterate over. Off course a thousand and one versions of software maybe too much, but musicians tend to exaggerate.

That we can recall when today is a sweet used to be

Willie Nelson again loves to remember himself about good times (another great song from the same album), he believes that today will be in the memory that he can recall with fondness.

So we can look at this as a moment to inspect the past, and maybe perhaps adapt for a better future. Because we want to make every today a wonderful yesterday right?

Agile is big on self-assessment and inspection to create quick adaptation and overall success. So we can think that Willie here is talking about how we can inspect our processes and previous accomplishments to create a sweeter tomorrow.

And with you in my arms the future seems so far away

This was I struggled with, being quite personal and intimate.

Willie sings about how time seems to stop while he holds his lover, unfortunately, time does not stop when you are developing software, if anything it seems to speed up, as you don’t seem to have enough time to improve all the things you want.

But I shall try

I believe this can be interpreted as a moving tribute from the Scrum Master to his team, as holding the team together (maybe not in his/her arms) can make the future seem far away, and focusing on a sprint by sprint goals. It is a bit farfetched but that was the best I could do.

And today’s gonna make a wonderful yesterday

And finally, he finishes this short song again with his conviction that today’s going to make a wonderful yesterday, and I think this is a great message to any team that wants to keep continuously improving and making every day better than the last.

By inspecting processes, by putting people and interaction first, and by delivering working software that can be inspected and adapted quickly and with the great quality we too can make A Wonderful Yesterday.

Hope you enjoyed and let me know if any song makes you think in an agile way.

Previously published at


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