Explaining Software Development Methods By Flying To Mars [Comic]

Elon Musk started out as a software engineer, and now he wants to go to Mars. Don’t be on the first ship.

Software development methods explained by flying to Mars

Truth be told, there’s no wrong way to manage a big software project (except “moving fast and breaking things” – that one has not aged well). Waterfall may seem rigid and old school, but it’s really just another way of saying “plan ahead”. Agile methods are great for flexibility, as long as someone tells the client when to stop giving feedback.


This comic was commissioned by Toggl. We fund our comics by making a great, simple to use time-tracking app.

The Wirecutter called Toggl “the best time-tracking application for freelancers,” and Allison from Twitter called us “the real MVP.” Dave on Reddit only thinks we’re fine. But that’s ok! We think he’ll come around. Toggl is totally free for solo users and small teams to signup and use, so why not start tracking and see how much time all those rewrites are taking you. That is, if you really want to know.

By On October 3, 2019

  1. It is funny reading the comments for this comic strip. There are many comments from persons who sound like they a trying to justify their Agile jobs instead of accepting the tongue and cheek joke from this comic strip.
    In my experience, waterfall projects assume a lot from the start and do not deviate from the first plan during the project. However the end result is an over spend of 300% also need new projects to start to rectify discrepancies found at the end of first project. In this scenario, the astronauts die of asphyxiation due to a discrepancy of not providing oxygen in the rocket. The other methods usually involve no end of meetings that discuss when the next meeting will be. However the project, in these methods, may or may not deliver an end result and likely be ditched for another project as the client have changed their mind or got bored waiting for clear results. But hey, that is business for you.

  2. Well we saw how great a job Boeing did with waterfall software development on the B737 Max: amd they are way behind SpaceX on a Mars rocket. So I would say Agile beats waterfall.

  3. if putting a man on Mars nowadays is a perfect fit for Waterfall then that makes space flight a complicated affair. assuming that is true, despite my serious doubts, this is thanks to the Apollo program which was one of the most clear Agile programs ever. They had a series of Build-Measure-Learn cycles, each deliverable informed and shaped the next one and eventually they experimented enough to find the working formula. This is at the core of Agile approaches and that is how they, allegedly, put a man on the Moon. If space flight was then a complex problem and now it is only complicated then Agile thinking is what we should be thankful for… well that and a whole lot of human lives, material resources and time invested in the learning path.

    I agree, Waterfall works great for complicated problems, people tend to apply Agile practices when they are not the best approach, but that comic is really “comical” in its ignorance of what each concept means.

  4. I have worked on software projects for nearly 30 years, as a developer/engineer and as a delivery guy (scrum master/project/programme manager). This cartoon, and it is a cartoon, it is a work of fiction, shows a real ignorance of delivering software projects.
    Apart from anything else, Elon Musk and his SpaceX team HAVE used Agile to develop their rockets; and they’ve done it quicker and cheaper than incumbents operating in the space for 50+ years.

  5. This is extremely anti-agile. You’re a Marketing lead with an Anthropology background who claims to be “usually drawing comics on gaming and movies.” Please stay in your lane.

  6. XSCALE: You want to go to Mars. You figure out that asteroids are worth quintillions of dollars. You mine asteroids instead. Soon enough you have millions of rotating habitats as homes for trade, science and artistic relationships for the mutual benefit of trillions of people.

    They want to go to Mars. But they figure out that Venus, which has a magnetosphere and Earth-normal gravity, pressure and temperature at 50km above the surface, is worth vastly more. Soon enough you have another trillion people living in cloud cities that float at that height for no more reason than they’re full of Earth-normal atmosphere.

    And they want to go to Mars. But by now they can engineer bodies that can live very happily inside gas giants like Jupiter, Saturn and the smaller ones. These places can host ecosystems with quadrillions of sentient trans-human beings.

    And that kind of development continues until, shortly after we reach Kardashev 2, we notice there’s this one miserable deserted rock left uninhabited in the entire solar system. And that’s Mars. Because, if you know anything about Mars, you know that no one in their right mind will ever want to go there. So they dismantle it for spare parts.

  7. Pretty funny. Analogies and ways of working are all wrong, but still funny. If you want to make it even for all types. Waterfall should be. “You want to go to the moon”. “Year later you’ve built and test a rocket for the moon” “Now you want to go to Mars, but not enough fuel”.

    • Exactly. Or “You want to go to Mars. You plan, build a rocket and when it’s ready your discovery you forgot to add a requirement to fit human inside.”

  8. The artist doesn’t seem to understand how agile methodologies are supposed to work. Prolly has only ever been on teams executing fake agile.

    • Agreed. Funny cartoon, but artist doesn’t seem to understand anything about how these processes work. Makes it sound like waterfall works great.