A Manifesto for Post-Agile Software Development

In nearly 15 years since the Agile manifesto was penned, an entire generation of the software industry has grown up having known only allegedly ‘Agile’ methodologies. Their experience has not always been positive.

The ‘new’ criticisms made against agile – by those who have grown up with it, not those who opposed it in the first place – are rarely criticisms of the agile manifesto. They are, often, reactions against the (abusive) experience of being pushed into processes, behaviours & relationships which are unsatisfactory; whilst at the same being stripped of any power to improve them.

We should always react against people being pushed about, and made powerless.

A manifesto is a small thing. It can fall on deaf ears. It can be interpreted to mean the opposite of what was intended, it can be misused to manipulate people. But if we make the effort to keep in touch with each other, and to keep trying to re-state what was meant, it can continue to be a valuable guide. And so I propose a 15th anniversary postscript.

Manifesto for Post-Agile Software Development: A Postscript

  • The agile manifesto was not and is not a prescription for people to impose conformity, nor a tool for controlling people.
  • There is a deeper theme to agile. At the core it is based on trust and respect, promoting workplace relationships which value people. We oppose methods, structures and behaviours which reduce respect and trust, and which reduce people to assets with no power.
  • Agile will always demand shared learning and shared improvement. Without critical reflection and learning – both from their own experiences and from the wider community – teams cannot remain agile. Without improvement based on that learning, ‘agile’ becomes fossilization.
Manifesto for Agile Software Development: A Reminder of the Original

The Agile Manifesto:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

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

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Comment

  • The phrase and much of the bullet point ‘There is a deeper theme…’ comes from About the Manifesto.
  • The emphasis on continuous learning is for some so obvious as to need no explanation. But some are stuck in a so-called “agile” process which they are powerless to change or improve. The irony of naming such an structure “Agile” would be funny if it weren’t so painful.
  • Ron Jeffries’ response to some criticisms of Scrum was: “The essence of what makes Scrum work isn’t the three roles, the five meetings, the one artifact. It’s Inspect and Adapt. When things are not going as you like, you’re supposed to fix it.”
  • To cry out that without continuous learning and change there is no agile, can be a powerful tool for the disempowered.
  • Calling for change in a broken process can become a step towards changing broken relationships.
  • Beyond “Deliver working software. In a team.”, I see two essentials to agile:
    • Treat people well
    • Never stop learning
    Each of these two is only truly possible when the other is also practised.

Go Further, Do Better

  • Alastair Cockburn was ahead of the game and has been teaching  Heart of Agile for a while. He has four essentials: Collaborate, Improve, Deliver, Reflect.
  • Ron Jeffries and Chet Hendrickson’s post on turning the dials up to 12  starts from, ‘Al Smith once said “The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy”. We say The cure for the ills of “Agile” is more Agile.”’ and sketches what turning the dials to 12 might mean.
  • Gabrielle Benefield’s “Mobius Loop” uses a different language and stipulates a process. At first glance it is much more achievement focussed. The four “corners” of their figure 8 loop are Why & Who; Outcomes; Deliver; Measure & Learn; and the centre crossover of the loop is Options.

An older bibliography

Draft – Comment & Contribution Welcome. Updated September 2019.

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