The Humanist Agile Manifesto

What Agile taught us about the effective leadership of knowledge-worker organizations

The Manifesto for Humanist Agile Organization and Culture

We believe there is a better way to manage. It requires a shift in mindset and beliefs. It requires adopting a new perspective on people and how we have evolved together over these millions of years. We use the following values as our compass to steer the way we organize and the way we behave.

  • We are Fans of Our Humanity. We are all more gifted, capable and motivated than we can ever see.
  • We Work Better Together. The best outcomes happen when we work together with trust and transparency. We assume and expect positive intent in everyone.
  • Taking Turns Makes More Winners. Our great gifts of individual motivation and related dominant behavior styles, can threaten group success, the growth of others. We take turns, and go no faster than the slowest.
  • The Speed of the Team is the Speed of the Organization. It is our job as leaders, first and foremost, to ensure Team Focus, Flow and Productivity.
  • Relinquishing Control Unleashes Our Human Potential. Control is often a toxic organizational behavior when practiced upon others. Leading with Authority and Mentorship brings out the best in Teams and individuals.
  • The Collective Outperforms the Silo. Our collective wisdom works better to resolve and manage chaos than does managing through hierarchy and need-to-know. Delivering the What and How requires understanding the Why.
  • Direct Communication Beats Intermediaries and Documentation. Richness in communication is key to getting things right. Alignment between the Team and our Customers is our top priority.
  • We are Present, On-time, and Connected. We speak in realities, stay connected, and value alignment of purpose, understanding and action. We help each other when needed. We share so others can learn.
  • Questions are the Best Way to Learn and Lead. All good learning comes from questions — we answer when asked, but not before. We lead with questions that inspire leadership and growth in others. An answer discovered is far more valuable than an answer told.
  • We Work Together Better with Artifacts. Communication is best done in rich and collaborative formats, colorful and interactive.
  • Conversation and Communication often Outperform Systems. Our innate fascination with tools often steers us away effective ways of working. We prefer to turn off tech and keep systems simple, so as to create better communication.

These values form a system in which we can perform better together.


The original “Agile Manifesto” for software (link) was written to mark a milestone in a decades-long effort to improve how large-scale software development was done. It stated several values that formed the foundation of the techniques they selected and christened, “Agile.” They were solving for a somewhat rare situation: a large, single-project environment with dedicated teams.

But the “real world,” the world of business that is, is much messier, with multiple stakeholders, projects, priorities, etc. The world of business tends to be naturally chaotic. (See here for a list of the seven key forms of chaos that infect organizations)

Despite thousands of books on empowering teams and how to manage and lead better, a toxic way of managing organizations through control and authority still remains the dominant practice. It is an archaic remnant of Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management methods that were first designed for repetitive factory work, These practices have been known to be ineffective since the 1950’s (link) and cause all kinds of problems.

In the same way that Software Agile replaced the then-standard (and archaic) way of building software (known as “waterfall”), we’re hoping to finally replace this bad managing with something better.

Seven years of trial and validation done with well over 100 client organizations and thousands of leaders, managers and knowledge-workers, has uncovered a different style of Agile that serves the naturally-occurring chaotic organization, or “NOCO.” This new Agile is known commercially as “AgencyAgile” because of the problem that it was intended to solve, the chaos of the most-chaotic of organizations, advertising and marketing agencies.

Chaos exists in a wide range of organizations — wider than we had imagined — making the AgencyAgile techniques work well in businesses that are not agencies, but are just, well, kind of chaotic. Recently, we stepped back and asked, “What would the Manifesto look like?” Okay, it wasn’t recently…it was like two years ago. But all good manifestos require some thinking, and we’re feeling like now is a good time to put it out there.

You’ll notice we chose to NOT call it the “AgencyAgile Manifesto.” We chose the word “Humanist” to reflect the gist of the values, which are about people, not software (nor agencies), and also to acknowledge the broader applicability of the values and methods.

One last note on this: we think this Manifesto is sorely needed. We see a lot of bad Agile out there…Agile as whatever anyone says it is. (here is a fuller version of this rant/point) We suspect that part of the problem is that the Software Agile values are just so narrow and vague. Take the fourth value in the Software Agile manifesto: what does “adapting to change” really mean, in a practical sense? Does it mean that I can change anything at any time? If you know software Agile, you know that is not true, but more than once I have had someone, usually a manager, dismissing the Team’s need to have focus, by quoting that value: “Hey, can’t we just be a bit more Agile about this?”

So the values that we state below give a bit more guidance. Hopefully, helpful. Here it is.

A last note: as of this writing (late November 2018) we’re planning to make updates and refinements to this manifesto…and at some point we’ll lock it down and track edits.