The Agile Manifesto, 20 years after, is it still relevant?

The Agile Manifesto, 20 years after, is it still relevant?

Author : Ievgeniia Zinchenko (Consultante Innovation, Agilité et Management) chez Astrakhan - Published date : May 5, 2021

This February we celebrate the anniversary of the creation of the ground-breaking writing on agility – the Agile Manifesto. Over 20 years ago, in February 2001, 17 people gathered on a snowy resort in the Wasatch mountains of Utah, USA to talk, ski and relax. From these seventeen people were representatives from Scrum, Extreme Programming, Adaptive Software Development, DSDM, Pragmatic Programming and others. These 17 “chosen ones” gathered with the idea of making existing heavyweight and lethargic practices of software development more flexible and efficient. Back then, no one knew that the product of this ski resort holiday would be a major step-forward which consolidates the main values and principles of work organisation for the next 20 years. The name of this document – the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

Naming themselves “The Agile Alliance”, the creators of the Manifesto describe the purpose of the document:

“This type of situation goes on every day—marketing, or management, or external customers, internal customers, and, yes, even developers—don’t want to make hard trade-off decisions, so they impose irrational demands through the imposition of corporate power structures. This isn’t merely a software development problem, it runs throughout Dilbertesque organizations.”

Different forms of Agile

Since its creation, the way we work have evolved drastically. Many collaboration and managerial tools appeared, as well as many agile methodologies. Remote work became a normal practice. Since then, Agile was interpreted and adapted to fit organisational structures and enterprises’ cultures. Agile values and principles have set the tone to many managerial practices and spread far beyond software development, as was initially planned.

Today, Agile has spread to different domains such as HR, marketing, sales and government. Even if different dimensions have appeared since, none of them contradict the Agile Manifesto. Here are some examples:

Manifesto for Agile HR Development

Agile Marketing Manifesto

Agile Government Leadership

Agile in Government

Agile in Sales

Values described in the Manifesto have been seen as guidelines that can be applied now to almost any team or organisation. That’s why so many different agile methodologies have appeared. Despite numerous variants, all are based on four fundamental principles.

Agile Values

Here are the 4 values highlighted in the Agile Manifesto:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

Many organisations try to become agile and divert from ‘unbreakable’ long-term planning to become more flexible and responsive to the needs of customers. Values described in the Manifesto outline the priorities that should guide our organisations. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t need processes and tools anymore, or documentation, or contracts, or a plan. We just don’t give them priority.

“The Agile movement is not anti-methodology, in fact, many of us want to restore credibility to the word methodology. We want to restore a balance. We embrace modeling, but not in order to file some diagram in a dusty corporate repository. We embrace documentation, but not hundreds of pages of never-maintained and rarely-used tomes. We plan but recognize the limits of planning in a turbulent environment.”

What does it mean – to be agile?

Focus on a goal: a working software, a customer-oriented product

Continuous inspection: frequent collaboration with customer to understand what can/should be improved

Adapt quickly: rapid respond to changes to avoid further deviation.

Nobody predicted the global changes that 2020 brought. Indeed, how is it possible to predict everything that will happen in the nearest year? If we all were fortune tellers, it would make perfect sense to make far future plans and projects. A strict plan locks us in chains of rigidity and leaves no room for manoeuvre.

In reality, what we need is a plan that can be quickly adjusted and adapted to new circumstances. These new circumstances take their root in continuous feedback that we receive. Feedback is our learning tool that helps to improve our products and processes, so we should not hesitate to reach for it frequently. More on how to efficiently give feedback can be read in our article the Art of Giving Feedback.

Being agile means being customer-oriented and responsive to change. It means having a flexible mindset. To archive agility, we need to be ready to change any moment.

Fake Agile

However, a possible pitfall can appear when companies try to become agile in their own manner without acquiring an agile mindset. Many companies, trying to keep up with innovations and new managerial practices, impose agile rules in their day-to-day practises without a clear understanding of what agility is and why they need it. The result is the same heavy-weight structure with the same rigid mindset, but with new agile vocabulary, new team names and ceremonies. It would be like trying to renovate the façade of an old decrepit building, without making much-needed renovations inside. In such cases, we can see many failed variants of agility, so called Faux or Fake Agile.

To picture this type of cases, here is a short, but sometimes sadly accurate parody of the Agile Manifesto.

Being agile in Agile?

Sometimes enterprises don’t follow the rules of a certain Agile methodology, but they use the principles of agility in their management. Or sometimes they adapt the application of particular methodology to their culture and find themselves at the early stage of becoming fully agile. If Agile values are applied, there’s no reasons why they cannot be called agile. In any case, no matter how we decide to call it, if we have continuous improvement and see the results – that’s the only thing that matters.

That’s why, if we decide that we don’t need to have stand-ups every day, we can switch to every-other day. If estimating every single story during the Sprint planning seems to be a waste of time, why do it? If planning for a Sprint ahead becomes inefficient, use the Kanban board instead. Agile Manifesto values are our guidelines and they leave us the freedom for adaptation. So, no matter which terminology is used, the approach stays the same – values over rules.

Is the Manifesto for software development only?

If we re-examine the product of that ski-trip 20 years ago, nothing extraordinary was created. However, the breakthrough is that for the first time, these values and principles were properly set out in a document that since became a benchmark for many companies.

That said, one thing seems to unnecessarily restricts application of the Manifesto. Funnily enough, this lies in its name – Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Overtime the sphere of its application went far beyond software. Here we find probably the only part which is outdated.

Is the Manifesto still relevant today?

The values set out in the Agile Manifesto are admittedly also principles of common sense: simplicity, close collaboration, continuous improvement, responsiveness to change, flexibility. Quite frankly, it’s hard to imagine a situation where it could stop being relevant. These universal values are without doubt still in use and the scope of their application widens every year.