Agile for Everything: Taking the Manifesto beyond Software
The Agile Manifesto was written specifically with software development in mind, but agile thinking isn’t only relevant to software projects.
The values in the Manifesto weren’t new, but the publication of this document sparked a change in how we build software and raised awareness of both agile software development and the ideas behind agility in general. It’s been such an effective way to describe the core values of an agile approach that people have attempted to reframe it to better apply its ideas to agile approaches across the organization.
The simplest approach to generalizing the Agile Manifesto might be to change the word software in the preamble and in the list of values to something else. Some common suggestions are value, systems, or solutions.
Being agile is less about what you are creating than it is about your approach to creating it. The Agile Manifesto was a response to environments that focused on working from a fixed plan and assuming that all forces influencing the system were predictable—even as few, if any, projects existed in a static space. Business environments and team composition can change over the course of a plan’s lifecycle, and in many cases, the requirements on which the plan is based don’t meet the customer needs. This isn’t because of bad planning; it’s because a lot can change between the start of a project and the end.
Agile is about responding to change in the environment around the project you are delivering. Feedback is an indicator that there is change you need to consider, so valuing responding to change means that you need to create systems that help you receive feedback.
Because of the centrality of feedback, some have suggested that a general-use Agile Manifesto would rephrase the fourth value statement from prioritizing “responding to change over following a plan” to “responding to feedback over following a plan.” However, for me, that framing falls short because it puts the main theme of agile—an acknowledgement that the world isn’t static—in the background. Agile is about adapting to change, and that applies to any agile effort, whether it’s dealing with software or not.
The values of the Agile Manifesto, while designed to apply to software, can form a basis for an adaptive approach to any project. Going from specific to general and inspecting and adapting along the way are great design ideas, no matter what you’re working on.
Whatever approach you take to introduce agility to nonsoftware people, don’t lose sight of the values at the heart of agile—the central one being responding to change over following a plan. Being tactical and specific by gathering feedback is a great way to make the values concrete, but don’t confuse how (feedback) with what (change).
Agility is about being open to change and responding to it. Most of the other values and practices flow from that principle.