20 Years of the Agile Manifesto: Looking Back and Accelerating Forward

BrandPost By Bryan Stallings
Jun 17, 2021
IT Leadership

Agile leaders reflect on the methodology’s history, its use today, and how it can help solve emerging issues.

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Credit: iStock

This year, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Agile Manifesto. Over the last two decades, I have watched organizations evolve and teams emerge to become increasingly effective, efficient and collaborative by implementing the Agile values and principles.

Looking Back

If we could turn back time, we’d see how most corporate workplaces primarily consisted of row after row of small cubicles, with some private offices around the exterior walls. Where we worked was a reflection of how we worked. After many long months of solo effort, we would attempt to integrate everyone’s work, a messy process that invariably led to significant additional work and costs.

We’ve had 20 years to change all of this with a mindset aligned to the Agile values and principles. In today’s world, tiny offices have been replaced with collaborative workspaces and online environments. Working as teams, we frequently integrate our work, making progress in short iterations. We deliver incrementally, learning together with each release.

These aren’t the only changes we’ve seen because of Agile. During this 20-year anniversary, I had the opportunity to connect with three industry leaders to reflect on the impact of Agile and what to expect moving forward.

The Far-Reaching Impact of Agile

Today, work is primarily done in teams. Working together we deliver better solutions. We want product teams that stay together and build a shared history, which increases trust and enhances effectiveness.

Roman Pichler, a leading expert in product management, reflected on how Agile has influenced the transformation of product teams. “Self-organizing development teams tend to be more motivated and productive compared to traditional ones,” Pichler said. “Product people are now enabled to release new products and features more quickly due to a closer, ongoing collaboration with cross-functional development teams.”

Agile has also influenced the human element of work. We set regular improvement goals for ourselves, our teams, and the organization. As team members come to know one another more fully, we create trust and strengthen our professional relationships.

Lyssa Adkins, a leader in the Agile coaching community, recently reflected on her experience helping individuals implement Agile practices over the last two decades. “As I look out in the Agile community itself, I notice that we start to adopt business practices and structures that are from a very achievement, result-oriented, ‘get it done’ mentality,” Adkins said. “That’s not where our own values and principles live. Our values and principles are pluralistic and relationship-driven, a ‘let’s really dive into the depth of this, let’s figure out the best thing for the most people, and then let’s do that’ mentality.”

Preparing the World for Remote Work

It’s my belief that Agile values, principles and practice prepared many individuals and the organizations they guide to “probe, sense and respond” when confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic. Considering the present circumstances, James Grenning, co-author of the Agile Manifesto and a software engineering expert, reflected: “Maybe the timing of having 20 years of Agile practice under our belts was a benefit during this emergency.”

Imagine how businesses might have fared if we were still following traditional models with individuals working independently and integrating infrequently, with siloed organizations and lengthy delivery timeframes. What would have happened?

During this time of increased uncertainty, those 20 years of influence from Agile served us well, and in some cases propelled individuals and organizations forward.

Bringing Humanity Back to the Office

Twenty years ago, the Agile Manifesto proclaimed the need to value “Individuals and interactions over process and tools.” In response, the workplace is increasingly welcoming. Yet as we look to the future, we must place greater focus on increasing the humanity in our workplaces. We need greater competency in the human aspects of bringing people together to further enable the boundless potential of people and teams.

Agile originated to address the increasing complexity in software development, and Agile practices today are utilized on some of the world’s most complex challenges. As a growing community of Agile practitioners, we bring people together while solving difficult business and human problems.

Optimizing with Visuals

The immediate future of work is flexible. Our work environments, team interaction models and collaboration platforms need to foster flexibility, whether we are engaging in real-time or asynchronously. Visuals can provide support for these Agile teams to move into action more quickly.

We are visual creatures, which means using visuals is incredibly important to show what we’re talking about in software development,” Grenning said. “The problems we’re solving really benefit from being able to get an image in your head. ”

Pichler agreed that visuals play an important role in supporting Agile teams. “I hope that Agile teams will continue to use visuals and collaboration tools,” he said. “A picture is worth a thousand words, as the old saying goes. I certainly prefer to communicate via easy-to-understand visualizations rather than verbose messages.”

Solutions like intelligent diagramming and virtual whiteboarding make it easier for remote and hybrid teams to collaborate virtually. In-person and remote team members can work together from the same playing field with visual workspaces, and visuals make it easier for all contributors to get on the same page. By applying visuals to Agile and project planning, our Agile teams today can “see and build the future.”

Accelerating Forward with Agile

While we’ve seen great success from implementing Agile over the last 20 years, we must improve. We will see even greater benefits when we recognize that Agile is more than a framework; it elevates a set of values and a mindset for working together that changes how we solve problems.

For me personally, Agile promoted a new way of perceiving, learning and building as part of a team, dramatically impacting not just work but the entirety of my life.

“Imagine a world with millions of Agile practitioners,” Adkins said. “What is our role in these big topics, like social justice or disaster recovery? What is it that we know how to do and how is it that we know how to bethat could be useful to the people who are already working on those topics? If you look at [the Agile] community, why couldn’t we be this amazing force in the world?”

I am also hopeful for the emergence of globally interconnected networks of Agile-capable leaders and collaborators who seek to solve worldwide problems in unprecedented ways.

For this, I am grateful to the 17 individuals who met from February 11-13, 2001 at The Lodge at Snowbird ski resort in Utah to “talk, ski, relax, and try to find common ground.”

Register today for Agile 2021 to learn more from these experts about the impact of Agile. Use the code A21Lucid for $100 off.