The Duality boosted by Agile and SRE communities

Alessandro Gerlinger Romero
4 min readMay 18, 2021

On one hand, the Agile community in its papyrus records “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” [1], on the other hand, the SRE (Site-Reliability Engineering) community in its papyrus states “You can’t 'fix' people, but you can fix systems and processes to better support people making the right choices when designing and maintaining complex systems” [2].

At this moment, it is revealed the intrinsic duality in the papyruses of both communities. The former expresses opposition between people and processes and the latter emphasizing fixing also does.

Henceforth, a brief review of the phenomenon of duality, that is, opposition in its many forms is shared in the hope of providing a broader comprehension of such phenomenon in the information technology arena.


It should be no surprising the phenomenon of duality prevails in humanity. An interesting example is the Cucuteni–Trypillia culture, a prehistory archaeological culture c. 5500 to 2750 BC of Eastern Europe (nowadays part of Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine) [3]. In such a culture, the duality seems to be rooted in cosmology [3].

Remarkable is the archaeological piece from Cucuteni–Trypillia culture showed in Fig. 1, a granary, which exhibits in its walls an image tightly connected with the annual cycle of the Earth around the Sun (duality — Earth/Sun) and the constantly changing daily amount of light and darkness (duality — light/darkness) [3].

Fig. 1. Granary from Cucuteni–Trypillia culture. Adapted from:

Distinctly, the image on the wall of the granary reassembles the taijitu, which is a symbol in Chinese philosophy, introduced in c. 1000 AD, to represent the unit of opposites [3].

Ancient History

Humanity from time to time faces the phenomenon of duality, which had its understanding extended by an ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus, c. 500 BC [4].

Heraclitus proposed the theses called "the unity of opposites" and the related "becoming" among others. The latter recognizes the changing nature of objects with the flow of time, in other words, their impermanence (flux). According to him, paradoxically, changing is what unites the opposites [4].

It is captivating to hear Heraclitus in the following quotes enlightening the unit of opposites[4]:

"Cold things become warm, and what is warm cools; what is wet dries, and the parched is moistened." — DK B126

"And it is the same thing in us that is quick and dead, awake and asleep, young and old; the former are shifted and become the latter, and the latter in turn are shifted and become the former." — DK B88

Boots on the ground

In the information technology arena, the duality between people and processes is everlasting. Now and then the arena bounces from one to another. Nonetheless, opposite entities may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent, even more, they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.

Regarding the agile community, to reach the agile manifesto in 2001 [1], the IT arena bounced between the opposites: (A) a process-oriented approach, e.g., Rational Unified Process (RUP; early days in 1988 through Objectory process); and, (B) a people-oriented approach, e.g., eXtreme Programming (XP; in first-half of the 1990s). Recently, facing the issue of scaling agility in enterprises, perhaps the arena is bouncing — taking care to avoid the label 'process' brought into attention by RUP self-defined as a process framework, e.g., SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), introduced in 2011, is defined as a knowledge base of proven, integrated principles, practices, and competencies for achieving business agility using Agile, DevOps, and Lean [5].

Concerning lean, the Toyota Production System (TPS) has its elegance rooted in simplicity and unity. In fact, TPS boils down to two key principles: continuous improvement and respect for people [6].

Respect for people is a tenet of SRE, which emphasizes the focus on continuous improvement of processes (including the systems that support them), which turned out to lead to a blamelessness culture [2]. Such emphasis on the continuous improvement of processes is also a principle in DevOps.

Therefore, SRE and DevOps view respect for people based on the assumption that there is no room for people's improvement (“… you can’t ‘fix’ people.. [2]) so the sole option for improvement is evolving unsafe processes. Nonetheless, according to Gartner, the undisputed #1 cause of network outages is human error, with estimates ranging from 32% to 82% [7]. Although finding and blaming someone is disrespectful, people need to be likewise a focus of continuous improvement.


In summary, as depicted by Heraclitus more than 2500 years ago regarding the general problem of changing, the specific duality of people/processes has been boosted in the IT arena — in particular, by the agile and SRE communities. Those that listen to Heraclitus adopting an approach covering the unit of opposites tend to achieve the best results. Finally, a psychologically safe workplace usually depends on the hope of continuous improvement of people and processes (the unit of opposites), without such hope, people may lose what make them human and resort to reprovable behavior.