Why Don’t We Just Call Agile What It Is: Feminist

Hanna Thomas Uose
7 min readSep 3, 2019

When Lean-Agile methodologies are brought up in progressive spaces, they’re often met with a suspicious side-eye. After all, as Audre Lorde said, ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’. Why on earth would we choose a methodology so beloved by big business, and how would we use it to deconstruct the harmful systems they impose on us?

I understand this line of thinking. Lean-Agile principles are foundational in the tech sector and getting take-up in other for-profit industries. Many of the well-known books that promote Lean-Agile (The Lean Start-up, and The Age of Agile, for example) include case studies drawn from big corporations and the military. The Age of Agile even includes an example on how the US military used Lean-Agile principles to build a fighter jet. To some in progressive spaces this may feel immoral at worst, irrelevant at best.

Plus, the history of Lean-Agile methodologies starts in large-scale manufacturing. Car manufacturer Toyota came up with a set of principles called The Toyota Way in the 70s, and organised them into 4 sections:

Long-Term Philosophy

The Right Process Will Produce the Right Results

Add Value to the Organization by Developing Your People

Continuously Solving Root Problems Drives Organizational Learning

In the 90s, these principles were adopted and built upon by the software development world, culminating in 17 white guys gathering in a ski lodge in Utah called Snowbird (I know) and writing The Agile Manifesto in 2001:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

The men who wrote the manifesto are unclear on whether they invited any women. Even so, the thing I notice from both the manifesto, the accompanying principles, and the fact that these 17 men call themselves ‘organizational anarchists’ is that what they came up with is inherently subversive, anti-authoritarian, and…

Hanna Thomas Uose

Principal at Align (www.wealign.net) | Formerly Chief Product Officer at 350.org & Campaign & Culture Director at Ekō | MA Prose Fiction at UEA