A Day in the Lifecyle: What the Beatles’ Breakup Tells Us About Agile

Beatles scholars debate for over 50 years whether it was Yoko or McCartney who broke up the largest band in history. Or whether it was the rivalry between the songwriting powerhouses Lennon & McCartney. Or simply that they ran out record breaking records and superlatives.
December 21st saw the release of 8 hours of footage from the so-called Let It Be sessions. In a 3-part film called Get Back, we learned the painful truth: they were destroyed by an inept implementation of Agile.
According to reports, Peter Jackson, director, was so impressed by Agile’s role in their final year of marriage, that he began to consider titling his film “Get Backlog” after a deep dive into RAD, DSDM and Scrum. Ringo decided to end the project even though it had been so many years.
Although the demise of the Beatles may not be a topic of conversation for practitioners who use lightweight delivery frameworks, the experiences and lessons learned by John, Paul, George, Ringo are a valuable parable for the long-lasting consequences of Bad Agile. Accordingly, this film may be remembered as the main warning against the cackhanded adoption of Agile methods of working.
The Fab Four was a formidable production line that produced cutting-edge, high-engineered, feature-rich pop in their heyday. They were not only great musicians and an iconoclast’s ability to overturn musical conventions. But their innovative use of multi-track recording techniques, which was introduced in the late 1950’s, made them truly disruptive. When viewed through the lens of project frames, they weren’t so much musical innovators but early adopters iterative delivery methods. Overdubbing can be seen as an early form Continuous Integration, so it is only fair to consider it.
This approach is what brought me such greatnesses like Revolver and Sgt Peppers, Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, to name a few.
The Let it Be sessions were a different story. They were created to demo new music and accompany a fly-on-the-wall documentary. The idea was to recreate the raw energy from their live performances at Cavern Club. There were no studio tricks or overdubs. Just the Beatles, organically dressed in their musical birthday suits.
They didn’t know what songs they were going develop or what kind show they were going for when they met at Twickenham Film Studio on January 2, 1969. As with all agile projects, the scope was flexible and the development window was scheduled around Ringo’s filming schedule of The Magic Christian. They were so confident in their agile instincts that they decided to forgo George Martin’s tried-and-true project management controls and put their faith in teamwork and in the beauty and wonder that would result from self-management and nimble, responsive working methods.
To make a pun on their iconic company’s name, it was Apple-shaped. However, it all went (you guess it) pear-shaped and the Beatles were among the first victims of Agile Gone Wrong.
This was 1969, in the middle of a methodology Dark Age, which is often referred to contemptuously by scrum master lodges across the country as Before Agile Manifesto. It was also a time when canonical ceremonies that give work life purpose weren’t yet invented.
Despite this, it is clear that the Beatles’ reflections on progress, or lack thereof, discussions of obstacles, and many restatements of commitment to a project are the precursors to stand-ups, and retrospectives. However, as experienced delivery managers know, ceremonies don’t guarantee success.