Agile 2 – More Than an Upgrade

The seventeen participants could not have predicted the success of their collective weekend brainstorm in February of 2001 that resulted in the Agile Manifesto. Their recommendations have held sway over common thinking about software development since then. Scrum saw the light in 1995, but cleverly hitched a ride on Agile’s bandwagon to the point that many consider the two one and the same. Many young developers have never known a different way of working in their professional careers.

But the spirit of Agile is becoming a dead letter. Coaches complain that most organisations do as they please. They explain in their blogs and books how true Agile should be practised. Developers grumble too, but rather because the enthusiasm over a better way of working has turned into going through the motions, rigidly and uninspired. What’s going on? Didn’t the Manifesto stand for careful deliberation and adaptation?

It certainly did, but meanwhile it has also birthed a lucrative industry of certification, that needs to cling to the letter of the law for its own survival. “If Scrum/LeSS/SAFe or Kanban doesn’t work for you, you’re not doing it right”. That sounds a little too much like the 16th century medical belief in the efficacy of bloodletting for every ailment. If the patient died (which they often did), apparently we didn’t get rid of all the bad humours.

It’s a shame we seem to be so bad at exercising balance. Working software over documentation? Great, no point in documenting source code ever again. Do the best architectures come from self-governing teams? Wonderful, we always knew that management is a nuisance. This tendency to drift towards extreme views is less surprising when you consider that many early Agile adopters came from the Extreme Programming movement, a name that didn’t promise careful deliberation. Indeed not; they were going to shake up the software world with their radical ideas. 

But to build novel software there can be no single method, extreme or moderate, that is optimal for every project or team. That’s why fifteen experts bundled their knowledge and worked on a nuanced critique and thorough redefinition of Agile thought in their book Agile 2 – the next iteration of Agile. Diversity in gender and ethnicity is much better in this group to begin with, that consisted of not only software specialists. The original Manifesto was shockingly colourless in terms of diversity. Does that matter? Yes, I think it does. If you gather up exclusively white Western men in order to tell an international community how they should best work together in software teams, you’ll hear how an elite Silicon Valley league of gentlemen prefers to work. Chances are you’re not one of them. Let uncle Bob Martin foam at the mouth over my wokeness, I don’t care.

Agile 2 has values and principles too, but they deliberately do not fit on a single sheet of A4. The real world doesn’t bear too much simplification. A few tidbits then: good leadership and individual differences in preferred working style receive ample attention. And bear in mind that it depends, most of the time. One size never fits all in Agile 2.

It’s high time we steer Agile thinking out of the rut it has got itself into. Not with extreme ideas, but one that also puts people over procedures.