Are you being Agile and should you care?

Agile Software Development is not a new thing. As an exact “thing” it has been around since 2001, making it more a surly teenager than a brilliant new idea. Just like some teenagers, it has not always turned out quite as well as the ideals its creators had for it when it was just a babe…

The agile manifesto was set out by some pretty cluey people – people who were quite competent at thinking for themselves. Unfortunately, some people look at the manifesto and think that it means “rules” rather than “policies and aims”. Sometimes people want to have rules to follow and the manifesto simply does not provide enough rigidity for their needs.

The most obvious example I can think of is when I have heard people misquote: “Working software over comprehensive documentation” as a reason not to write any documentation! (When misquoted, the word “comprehensive” goes missing) The fact that the manifesto is quoted as though it is law should be the first warning sign that you’re doing it wrong! The Agile Manifesto is not a development methodology and shouldn’t be treated as though it were one. As the scrum methodology website states:
“The Agile Manifesto doesn’t provide concrete steps.”

At the bottom of the Agile principles there is this gem:

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly

I like to think of it as: “Remember the aims of the manifesto and do what works for your team”. If you claim to work in an Agile Software Development team – but you have worked the same way for as long as you can remember, then it might be time to shake things up a little.

At the heart of the problem is that not everyone is passionate about their job. Sometimes, even the passionate ones can be at a point where external events mean that they are not focusing this passion on their work. That’s okay! It happens! But when it does, expecting these people to work in an agile manner is not being realistic.

The Agile Manifesto and the Principles behind it are worthy goals to strive for in software development. Lean, hungry successful startups seem to naturally gravitate towards most of the principles outlined. For them, I imagine, spelling it out is just common sense. (Although the principles also talk about working at a sustainable pace. – That doesn’t seem to align with the stories you hear about successful startups!)

If you are working in a Software development company that claims to abide by the Agile Software Development Manifesto, it is worth going over these principles and the manifesto itself periodically. Make sure you are on the band-wagon, not just claiming to be! If you read them and decide that they do not suit your team at all, maybe it is time you claim to be something else!

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