The Law of Raspberry Jam (Reflecting on Agile Progress)

In his classic, The Secrets of Consulting, Jerry Weinberg offers us his Law of Raspberry Jam, “The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets.” I thought about this recently as I’ve read blogs and articles from Agilists who are bemoaning the state of our Agile movement. They are concerned that the movement has gone awry, that people are practicing prescriptive agile, that they are not living up to the vision of the founders.

So, what did they expect!

As any movement expands from its narrow early base of practitioners, others take it in unforeseen directions—some good, some not so good. That’s just the way movements go. We can wax nostalgic about the “good old days,” can reflect on progress and try to redirect, or we can innovate and move forward. As we reflect on 10 years of Agile, I’d prefer to focus on the positive—how we’ve learned to deliver value to customers faster, how we’ve brought quality to the forefront in ways that haven’t happened before, and how we’ve improved the quality of workplaces around the globe.

Yes, it’s thinner than we would like. But thinner isn’t all bad. And there are plenty of individual companies and organizations that are thick. Jam, at least good jam, is lumpy—it’s thicker in some places than others. Let’s push forward on things like DevOps, continuous integration, Lean/Kanban, agile product management, and enterprise agility. Let’s stand on the jam lumps and create more of them.


    1. Right on, Jim!
      In “More Secrets of Consulting” (the Sequel to The Secrets of Consulting), I write about The Law of Strawberry Jam—which precisely matches what you say about lumps. Here’s the third paragraph in the whole book:

      “Slather a bit of raspberry jam on a few slices of bread, and you’ll see it growing thinner and thinner. But if you try the same trick with strawberry preserves, you’ll notice that no matter how much you try to spread it, the lumps remain! Or, in the words of the Law of Strawberry Jam,

      As long as it has lumps, you can never spread it too thin.

      In strawberry jam, the lumps are strawberries. In the Great Message, the lump is you! As long as your medium of communication involves your own body in the flesh – speaking, writing, hugging – your message cannot be infinitely diluted. And that’s why I decided to write this volume about you, the individual consultant, and the personal tools you need to make your messages lumpier than the ones carried by clones issuing forth from the big consulting factories.”

      And that’s exactly what you describe: the clone wannabes spreading their thin, watery version of Agile Jam. Well, as you say, such folks are part of the fate of all movements—but the movement doesn’t have to be destroyed by them. Let’s just ignore the grape jelly folks and keep being as lumpy as we can.

      In other words, thanks, and keep up the good work.

    2. Where would we be now without this ongoing evolution of methods? Nowhere, we never would have started the journey.