The Agile Manifesto has stood the test of time, says its co-author Jon Kern

Antonija Bilic Arar

Agile is not a fixed process or some training course everyone needs to go to.

This is a great time to be in software development. There is literally nothing that needs to be invented for teams to have success. On the people side, with more remote or hybrid work, we have never been in a better place to make collaboration across time zones possible.

Yet, the ability to truly collaborate at a meaningful level with your colleagues still seems elusive. Only the bold few seem to be able to take full advantage of the array of technical opportunities to achieve high-performing teams in virtually any context.

That’s how Jon Kern, a developer, software architect, and one of the co-authors of Agile Manifesto for Software Development, reflects on the manifesto’s impact on the tech industry since it was created more than 20 years ago. He will tackle the topic at the Regional Scrum Gathering in his keynote titled “Return to Agile: No. The Agile Manifesto isn’t Dead”, but we wanted to hear more from him.

Agile made DevOps happen

According to Kern, the Agile Manifesto has stood the test of time. Although many teams and companies still find the implementation challenging, all of the values and principles still apply. Software engineers are usually quick to criticize anything with ‘agile’ in the name, but it’s the agile principle of “frequent tangible, working results” that shifted to “Always be Shipping” and eventually to modern DevOps way of working and tools.

There really is no excuse for organizations not to have a modern software development and deployment DevOps pipeline system in place, to be able to deploy at will, to run a suite of automated tests to confirm the deploy is safe, to be able to rollback a deployment, and so on.

Nonsensical arguments against Agile

When people criticize Agile, says Kern, most of the time they list a bunch of offensive items as evidence, and then they proceed to tear down Agile because of the evidence.

Except, what they quote as the evidence is anything but agile. Kern names some of the more nonsensical arguments:

  • “Individuals and Interactions” – Agile means chaos, people can do whatever they want
  • “Changing requirements late in development” – We can change our minds whenever we want
  • “Build around motivated individuals” – Leave us alone, trust us, take what you get
  • “Maximize work not done” – We will do as little as possible
  • “Emergent design” — Don’t tell us what to do

As far as misconceptions for organizations trying to implement agile, the biggest one, according to him,  is to think it is a fixed process or some training course that everyone needs to go to:

“While “Agile 101” might help someone completely new to the ideas learn a little of the lingo or concepts, it is not very useful on its own. You cannot learn agile through training. Period. You can start there.

If you want to truly become agile, you need to experience agile. You need to work in your context, add a healthy dose of curiosity and humility, and take small steps to get better. The Agile Manifesto provides a lot of good values and principles by which you can guide and measure your efforts.

Do you actually interact with your colleagues, or do you hand off documents or Jira issues and comments and pretend to collaborate? Do you measure story points completed instead of value delivered to customers?

Companies are still stuck in processes

Many teams and organizations are still stuck in large processes, mired down by overcomplicated tool configurations, and generally suffering from being ineffective in the context that they find themselves facing.

Too often, Kern adds, tools are put in place with draconian levels of control. Too often people are working within a fixed process with little understanding of the need to deliver the most value for the cost.

Instead, too many people do too much deep work too far in advance of the need. Instead of working together with the downstream recipient to see what might be the best thing to deliver together.

Read the Agile Manifesto again

To avoid that, companies should truly embrace the first value: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Strive to build a culture that is collaborative, psychologically and physically safe; and one that understands where they are going and how to help each other get there, and how to celebrate wins and learn from misses.

Ideally, they do that by slowing down and read the Agile Manifesto again:

“They should seek to develop a curious and humble learning organization that incentivizes effectiveness and being pragmatic, over being dogmatic and following ineffective processes.

Teams need to embrace the fundamentals of delivering value to their customers. It requires adhering to agile values and principles (and more). And it requires having a solid foundation in numerous technical practices.”

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