What does the Agile Manifesto Really Mean?

Written by Paul D. Race for BreakThrough Communications, btcomm.com. Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, software development consultants and managers experimented with different ways to overcome the problems inherent in 1970s-era development procedures. Because they were all working to overcome the same difficulties, many of their “unique solutions” actually overlapped.

In 2001, seventeen of these consultants and mangers attempted to identify the common ground in their approaches. Because they felt that their approaches were all more flexible and adaptable than old-school methodologies, they adopted the term “Agile” to describe the group as a whole.

Then they attempted to summarize the core values that they could all agree on. The result was the “Agile Manifesto”:

Unfortunately, that document, like most mission statements, doesn’t exactly provide a roadmap for how all of these high goals should be accomplished, or even attempted. What is less known is that the same group created another list that was a little more prescriptive:

  1. Satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery.
  2. Welcome changing requirements.
  3. Deliver working software frequently.
  4. Users’ people and developers must work together daily.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals.
  6. Use frequent face-to-face conversation.
  7. Measure progress by working software.
  8. Promote sustainable development.
  9. Promote technical excellence and good design.
  10. Keep things as simple as possible.
  11. Allow teams to self-organize.
  12. Reflect and adjust periodically.

It’s worth noting up front that each Agile approach emphasizes some of these principles more than others! But it’s also worth noting that each of these items represents some way of “acting out” one or more parts of the “Manifesto.”

Valuing Individuals and Interactions” includes:

Valuing Working Software” includes:

Valuing Customer Collaboration” includes:

Valuing Responding to Change” includes:

When you break it out to this level you realize, that all of these “principles” are really “lessons learned” before the Agile Manifesto was created. You may also note that certain principles that are critical to some Agile methodologies are not listed at all, such as tracking progress visually.

Since the Manifesto was signed, most of the folks who signed it have tried to stay true to the second list as well as the first, with the result that some of the different methodologies are being implemented today in very similar ways, with very similar results. A few have stayed out of the mainstream, though, so if someone says they’re “using Agile,” it pays to ask which flavor of Agile they’re using.

Still, in most cases “using Agile” means that your organization plans to:

If you can adjust to this way of working, then you’re ready for Agile.