The influence of the Agile Manifesto, 20 years on

On 11th February 2001, many software delivery thought leaders came together in Snowbird, Utah, to discuss how to create processes that can enable enterprises to continuously deliver valuable software that satisfies their customers’ needs, and helps contribute to the overall goals of the business.

Agile Manifesto

While there were differences of opinion on the specific merits of one method over another, the attendees agreed that their shared values and beliefs dwarfed these differences. The result was a Manifesto for Agile Software Development which outlined 12 principles to delivering software, based on four key values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

As these principles and processes gained global recognition, enterprises began to understand that there was a better way of “doing” software delivery and, over the past 20 years, it’s been remarkable to watch an idea that stemmed from a three-day retreat shape the way the world approaches development and ultimately become a massive movement.

Interestingly enough, not one word has been changed in the Manifesto since its creation. But given all the advancements in the last 20 years, is it still relevant? Or should it be treated like a historical document that has long since served its purpose?

Is the Agile Manifesto still relevant?

In the years since the Manifesto was first published, Agile has been adopted by domains outside of software development, including hardware systems, infrastructure, operations, and even business support to name a few.

More recently, the cybersecurity industry has also benefited from implementing principles of the Agile Manifesto. The rise in DevOps which helped achieve accelerated delivery speed, improved quality and reduced risk came about after companies began to benefit from increased development productivity. With the successes of DevOps, organizations started to integrate security into their delivery process and DevSecOps was created.

DevSecOps enables organizations to address security issues during development, reducing cycle time and rework, while improving quality and streamlining the workflow. This also means the security team now has a seat at the DevOps table and can make sure that the appropriate security is in place as software is being built.

Additionally, business teams outside of technology have also embraced Agile principles for planning and executing their work. For example, Agile is being quickly adopted by marketing, people operations and finance. It’s also being applied in the medical and healthcare industries, resulting in breakthrough technologies, therapeutics and vaccines, thankfully!

What works and what doesn’t

We’ve also seen that the Agile Manifesto does indeed scale and can be applied beyond just small teams. However, many principles require increased emphasis at scale, while others need a more expanded perspective.

For example, Principle number 6 states that the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to a development team is a face-to-face conversation. Not having face-to-face interactions does not mean a business isn’t implementing Agile correctly, or that they won’t be able to achieve real value. In today’s pandemic world, we need to expand our thinking of what it means to be face-to-face and ensure that we are valuing “people and interactions” by providing the tools people need in order to collaborate better, such as Zoom, electronic white boards and more.

From experience, we also now know what doesn’t work when practicing the Agile Manifesto. Organizations that embrace Agile in name only and don’t embrace the underlying principles won’t get the key value an agile way of working can bring. There is no benefit in changing terminology without resolving root cause issues. Savvy companies are realizing this and making decisions to address these failure patterns.

Furthermore, most businesses struggle with adequate transparency, a lack of predictability, speed to market, lack of quality, etc. These are all things Agile can improve, however, instead of just doing Agile, I believe companies are better suited to explicitly focus on key business outcomes and in that context, leverage agile principles to bring that value into being.

Future expectations

Looking forward, I think we’ll see organizations moving from doing “agile transformations” to “addressing business problems.”

While the elegance and beauty of the manifesto was its simplicity, we are continuously “uncovering new and better ways,” and all of this learning cannot be contained in a single document. However, we now have new and better ways of conveying knowledge than we did 20 years ago. What’s important is that we approach life with a growth vs. a fixed mindset and continuously learn and share this knowledge with others. The free and unencumbered exchange of knowledge and openness to new ideas is how we need to embrace Agile and its manifesto for the next 20 years.

If I’m correct, I think we’ll see a reduced focus on Agile coaching as an end in itself and instead see an increased demand for business consulting using Agile as a means to the greater end. In its first 20 years, we’ve seen Agile completely change the way we imagined software development. The combination of values and principles in the manifesto creates a framework for what the Snowbird attendees believed was the essence of Agile.

The industry is better for the extraordinary business and personal benefits provided by this new way of thinking and working. We are grateful for it! In its next 20 years I’m excited to watch as it expands through the enterprise changing the way entire corporations organize and operate.

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