Modern Agile — an introduction to an awesome concept

Today’s Agile

Let’s start with some context — The Agile Manifesto for Software Development

I have always seen the Agile Manifesto for Software Development (established in 2001, see http://agilemanifesto.org/) as something great. It was a departure from how we used to develop software (think about large projects with different phases and all of that) and it enabled many of us to be more effective in delivering value to our customers. But the past few years I felt that it had it’s limitations. While some of the principles are as to the point now as they were in 2001, other principles are more out of date.

Examples of the first are:

‘Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.’ — This touches three very important topics:

  • Satisfy the customer
  • Early and continuous delivery
  • Valuable software

There is so much good in this principle. Everything starts and ends here I’d say.

‘Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.’ — Think about how projects often start relaxed but end up with people making long hours to make the target. This remains something you see a lot as a dysfunction in many companies. The principle is as relevant as ever.

‘Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential.’ — Absolutely and this can’t be stressed enough.

Examples of principles that -according to me- are a bit rusty are:

‘Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.’ — This principle seems to be overshadowed by the principle mentioning continuous delivery. Meanwhile we stepped away from a couple weeks/months. We are now talking days or even hours; continuously.

‘Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.’ — I see this principle touching the surface of what I feel is truly required. Create an organisation where it’s awesome to work in.

‘Working software is the primary measure of progress.’ — I’d say that it’s all about the value added with the working software. This principle in itself might result in a feature factory where you get stuff done and forget about the part where you review if you achieved the desired outcome.

On top of that: it is the Agile Manifesto for Software Development. That said, many principles could be translated to the rest of the company as well. As an example: the concepts of self organizing teams and having reflections at regular intervals don’t have to be limited to software development. And what’s more: in order for a development team to be able to properly self-organize the whole organization needs to be on board. So the Agile Manifesto for Software Development implicitly has major implications on the whole organization.

But more often than not the Agile principles did not get any further than the realms of software development. Teams that worked in an Agile environment were working in a bubble with the majority of the company being outside of it, resulting in mismatches on all kinds of fronts.

That has been one of my frustrations. To be able to work within a self-organizing teams the organization needs to enable you to do that. So management, HR, operations, a lot of things have to change as well to make a transition successful. It should be safe to work in an environment where the team decides on how to do get the job done. While sticking to the limited environment of software development many transitions failed.

This is why I am very enthusiastic about Modern Agile.

What is Modern Agile?

Modern Agile is far broader than the Agile Manifesto for Software Development. Modern Agile is a concept that is taking many different areas into account, not just software development. It can even be applied in organizations without software development.

To clarify how Modern Agile came to be here’s a snippet from the website: ‘over the past decade, innovative companies, software industry thought leaders and lean/agile pioneers have discovered simpler, sturdier, more streamlined ways to be agile. These modern approaches share a focus on producing exceptional outcomes and growing an outstanding culture. Today, it makes far more sense to bypass antiquated agility in favor of modern approaches.’

Modern Agile methods are defined by four guiding principles:

That’s what Modern Agile is. Very lightweight; 4 principles.

Make people awesome

Make people awesome is about shipping something that makes users awesome, but it is also about making co-workers awesome, making managers awesome, making all stakeholders awesome. It about answering the question: ‘how can we make people in our ecosystem awesome?’. There’s so much you can do with this. If co-workers are feeling they are unhappy, how can we make them feel awesome? If customers are positive about the value we bring, how can we enhance this, so that they feel awesome? What to do to make the company you work for a place that you love to work for?

Make safety a prerequisite

Human safety is key. When people feel safe they are empowered to perform at a high level. It can’t be overstated how devastating unsafe environments are. Both physical safety and psychological safety (involving interactions between humans)are key. Hence the importance of this Modern Agile principle.

Besides human safety there’s also the safety of the product. How easy it is to modify, how safe is it for the end-user?

Deliver value continuously

Deliver value continuously is about get value in your customer’s hand rapidly. It’s about dividing things in smaller pieces so that you can deliver value faster. So not about having a feature factory where you tick off the number of items delivered and where you celebrate that you delivered 10% more items than last month. It’s all about getting value to the customer fast and continuously. An entirely different beast.

Experiment and learn rapidly

Experiment and learn rapidly is vital to set you apart from the competitors that draw up road maps, chop the work to get bite-sized bits and deliver this. This principle is about experimenting frequently and learn from this. This will provide you the means to produce things that can make your users awesome.

The four Modern Agile principles are very much intertwined. As an example: If you feel safe to fail you are enabled to experiment and learn rapidly, allowing you to deliver value continuously and make people awesome.

The Modern Agile wheel with the four principles can be used anywhere. They are easy to grasp but under the surface their’s a world of good.

I find the concept of Modern Agile very inspirational and I intend to deep-dive into it and post about it more.

If you want to know more about Modern Agile, I advise you to take a look here: http://modernagile.org/. There’s a lot of good stuff to be found on that website. Highly recommended: Joshua Kerievsky’s Keynote on Agile 2016 is very inspirational and thought provoking.

All Modern Agile pictures in this post are from the site modernagile.org

Direct quotes from modernagile.org and the Agile Manifesto are between brackets.

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