Reading some posts on LinkedIn this morning got me thinking about this whole “Agile is dead” theme that seems to be in vogue.

The Agile Manifesto opens with “We are uncovering better ways…”. It was never intended to a be a static set of concepts carved in stone! The idea that “it’s time to replace Agile”, is like saying that “we tried to be better but failed so let’s blame it on Agile and do something else instead…”.

Like many ideas, Agile means different things to different people so we are not even arguing about the same thing. To some, Agile is where you list all the requirements in a backlog and then plan and execute work in 2-week Sprints. To others, it is a more abstract concept that guides how to navigate complex challenges by continually learning and adapting towards better outcomes.

This situation shouldn’t surprise us. The Agile Manifesto was born out of the practical experiences of thought leaders experimenting with new ways to approach software development challenges back in 2001. The Manifesto is very specifically about software and hasn’t changed since it was originally penned.

At its heart, when you strip away “software” the manifesto contains ideas that prove to be generally applicable to groups of humans taking on complex challenges. Here’s a summary of what I see in the manifesto:

  • Focus on customer collaboration and value.
  • Optimise feedback loops and learning to incorporate change as a natural part of solving complex problems.
  • Highly autonomous teams of motivated, empowered, collaborative and diverse cross-functional people are the basis for delivering value.
  • Its not about the process, its about the people – look after them!
  • Regularly inspect and adapt environment, processes and product to sustainably increase effectiveness and reduce product feature waste.

Observing organisations trying to survive and thrive in today’s challenging VUCA world, I would argue that all the 5 bullets above are highly relevant. If we look a little closer, we will find that many of those organisations will claim to have adopted Agile but are in fact a great distance from those bullets. So, is it Agile that’s failed? More likely, we are failing to uncover better ways…

From the lovely and much missed Jean Tabaka circa 2009 – “We should focus on organisational change, not lean or agile”.

Thanks Karl Scotland for drawing my attention to this statement in his post:

The key challenge isn’t with the ideas of Agile, its how we effect organisational change to discover improved ways of working. The tripwire is the change or transformation process – this is what typically fails! Organisational models are designed for stability and predictability, building in change resistance. Leaders have too much to lose and change threatens safety and job roles.

Organisational change is a complex endeavour. Sadly, it is often approached in a plan and top-down driven way with a start and end point. Ironically, what we need is to be Agile! An iterative and incremental change process that enables safe-to-fail experiments to emerge better practices. And, of course, the courage to make real changes to the environment, structures, roles, policies, processes, budgeting, reward and recognition systems, etc…

So, in summary, if we buy into the understanding of Agile as direction of travel to uncover better ways of working. Then the bit we need to fix, is how we change our ways of working.