Agile foundations

By the Blueprint Team

In February of 2001, a group of seventeen well intentioned individuals got together to create the Agile Manifesto which has forever changed the world of software development.  The Manifesto and the 12 Principles behind it have touched everyone I know in the business world and especially software developers and engineers.  The application of The Agile Manifesto drove changes and empowered developers to have autonomy and produce value faster with better quality.  There was a state of bliss for most who started their Agile journey as all seem right with the world of software development.  OK – maybe that’s overstating it a lot, but we had hope that this “Agile Stuff” would reduce the rate of project failures which was still hovering in the high 70% range with Waterfall techniques, or in many cases, no process or methodologies at all.

Fast forward 16 years to 2017 and we now see what I would call “Weaponized Agile”.  Everyone I know who works in software development has some level of exposure to Agile.  Executives have bought into Agile as the silver bullet which can be measured so that teams can advance to a state of hyper-productivity.  We have competing Agile “Processes” for managing an Agile project – Scrum, Kanban, LeSS, DAD, SAFe, and all the other hybrid models from which to choose.  Organizations embrace the process of choice, yet project delivery failures still hover in the high 70% range.  Beyond the delivery issues, developers, engineers, and business, folks remain in a state of constant dissatisfaction with their roles and how they are perceived as constantly failing at their jobs.  People in this state of mind work more and perform project heroics to make value delivery happen, but it is at the cost of quality and in most cases the individual’s health due to the high amount of stress they absorb.

“Weaponized Agile” is used against project teams to hold each other accountable for the failures.  So many managers and executives have been taught to believe that if you just follow the Agile process then results will happen.  Anyone who has ever done software work will tell you that the process does not guarantee value delivery.  Software is hard – things go wrong and each new development effort is a new problem that has never been tackled.  You’re asked to estimate up front and 99% of the time you are held to these estimates.  If you miss your delivery timeline, you are tagged as being bad at your job.  Motivating – right?  Not so much, and this is causing many organizations to rethink how they use Agile or if Agile is indeed a failed experiment.

The next five years will be critical in the world of software development, and we need to make a shift.  IoT, Big Data, AI, AR, VR, Machine Learning, and automation work is driving the need for better software to be delivered faster.  How do we get there?  How do we keep up?  How can we make this better in an innovative world which is increasingly run by software?

The answer is surprisingly easy – we go back to the foundation of where we started in 2001.  Too many people who have gotten their SAFe or Scrum certification and are running projects in JIRA, have never embraced the Agile Manifesto and the 12 principles behind it.  Too many people have never heard of the thought leaders who have a depth of knowledge to help you understand how to use Agile in your context.  Too many Scrum Masters and Product Owners don’t understand their roles and how to support teams who are craving help and expertise.

I’d encourage everyone who develops software, manages projects, and leaders of organizations to read this for the first time or to read it again.  Simple and concise with so much thought put into it – read it and post it everywhere for all to see.  It was then and is now a work of art. Sure, there are some tweaks that could be done to make it even better.

We also know that application of the Agile Manifesto and the 12 Principles is dependent on organizational context and environment.  However, we as software professionals need to challenge ourselves to dive in and read more from the signers of the Agile Manifesto.  Learn more about Value Delivery and the different ways to apply the knowledge of the thought leaders in the Agile world.  You owe it to yourself and your organizations to deliver.  Go back to the foundations of how Agile came to be and it will take you a long way in making execution stronger.

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