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December 08, 2023

Now and then: How the world of Agile has changed since the Agile Manifesto

Project Management
Agnieszka Sienkiewicz

Time really flies! 

It’s already been twenty-two years since seventeen passionate people from the software industry came up with the Manifesto of Agile Software Development. Software development has never been the same. But the revolution didn’t stop there. Let’s walk down memory lane and see how the Agile Manifesto transformed the world of software development and where Agile is now.

Then: Software development before Agile

The concept of engineering has existed since ancient times when humans started to devise early tools and weapons. However, software development as a branch of engineering debuted only in 1948 and wasn’t called “software development” until 1952. Interestingly, Agile did not come about at the same time as this fresh engineering discipline. As a matter of fact, Agile wasn’t invented on the day those 17 people signed the Agile Manifesto, either.

What did software development look like back then?

Developing software in Waterfall

Before Agile became standard (and even before it was called “Agile”), the Classic/Waterfall methodology was prevalent in software development. One of the drawbacks of using this methodology for software development was that it required tons of documentation (requirements). Those requirements had to be ready before programmers could write their first line of code. 

Business requirements described every business aspect of a product in detail. When they were ready, technologists could then develop technical requirements. The documentation was long, and software developers were expected to know it by heart and follow it to the letter.  

Moreover, there weren’t as many software development tools then, and many low-level items had to be created manually from scratch. Similarly, communication tools and advanced project management apps weren’t available either.

Developing software in a cascading approach also carries a high risk of delivering faulty products in the deployment phase. Because one phase follows another. There was no flexibility to return to the previous phase to identify and fix errors.

Now: Agile and Agile Manifesto

Things started to change with the Internet boom in the early 1990s. And with the Internet came websites and web applications. 

Competition among new startups grew stronger as this new tech hit the wider public. Teams were pressured to deliver digital products to the market faster. To meet those expectations, Agile teams started working iteratively and collaboratively. Because product quality had taken on even greater importance as developers started paying more attention to user feedback and were more open to experiments.

Also, since time and quality were of the essence, companies could no longer afford to produce all the documentation beforehand. And there was no place in the industry for software that didn’t work. Engineers proved more successful at delivering shippable results within regular one to four-week periods (as opposed to three- to six-month project phases).

Bringing Agile to life with the Agile Manifesto

It didn’t take long for people to realize that software development wasn’t the same anymore. Before the Agile Manifesto, developers devised various frameworks to help them develop software efficiently, iteratively, and in collaboration with others. Some notable Agile frameworks included Extreme Programming, Scrum, DSDM, Adaptive Software Development, Crystal Feature-Driven Development, and Pragmatic Programming.

They’d mix and match different ideas and approaches from those frameworks that would address their needs best. To respond directly to this situation, a group of 17 developers and tech luminaries held two meetings. The first took place in Oregon (2000), and the second in Snowbird ski resort, Utah (2001).

The goal was to discuss ways to improve the software development process and address traditional inefficient practices that were still in use. In particular, the need for heavy upfront documentation and the risk of overlooking errors. They also wanted to find a common ground for all the frameworks the participants represented.

The final result of their meetings was the Manifesto of Agile Software Development, commonly called Agile Manifesto. All 17 participants agreed on a set of values and principles that defined a philosophy, or culture if you will, of Agile. That’s how Agile as a separate methodology emerged and started a revolution in the software industry.

Later, in 2001, a few of the founders of the Agile Manifesto wrote several addendums and further extensions to the original paper. The goal was to promote the values further. That led to the creation of the PM Declaration of Interdependence, Software Craftsmanship Manifesto, and Agile Alliance.

Agile Manifesto: The 4 Agile Values

The participants of the Snowbird Summit identified the four fundamental values in Agile

In the Agile Manifesto, they stated: “We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work, we have come to value: 

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. 
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation.
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  4. Responding to change over following a plan.

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

4 values behind the Agile Manifesto

Agile Manifesto: The 12 Agile principles

In addition to the four Agile values, the Agile Manifesto also outlines the 12 Agile principles. Those principles help establish the tenets of the Agile philosophy, but they don’t dictate how one should practice Agile. Instead, they help instill Agile thinking in teams and individual members.

The 12 principles of Agile development include:

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through the early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

The 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto

Growth and relevance: The adoption of Agile Manifesto beyond software development

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development begins by saying: “We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.” So, initially, the original group created the Manifesto purely with the software industry in mind. 

But over the years, Agile’s values and principles have found a home in other domains, like banking and finance, HR, marketing, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, and many others.

A bar chart showing industries using Agile in percents.
Source: State of Agile, 2022

 

Agile philosophy has helped teams across many industries improve their collaboration within their organization and their customers. Development and activities are no longer a cascading chain of events. Instead, there’s close cooperation between product providers and product receivers. Thanks to this customer-centric approach and iterative development cycles, developers and other professionals can create more efficient workflows and deliver quality products.

Moreover, an Agile approach, an idea that came out of dot.com startups, has proved to work, even for large teams and enterprise-grade organizations. Today, there are SAFe, LeSS, and many more Scaled Agile frameworks. And there are cases of Agile adoption that have nothing to do with software development. 

That’s something the creators of the Agile Manifesto may not have intended. But this widespread adoption proves how the Agile mindset embedded in the Agile Manifesto remains so relevant. And if we consider the ever-changing tech and market landscape where adaptability is key, Agile might just be more relevant than ever.

People and collaboration: The impact of the Agile Manifesto on management

Agile culture based on the Manifesto’s values and principles minimizes control and bureaucracy. It moves decision-making down the organization to the teams and individuals. The Manifesto empowers individuals to take ownership of their work outcomes.

The Agile Manifesto emphasizes the people and interactions. The cooperation and collaboration between people, namely developers and their customers, results in working software. But to make this two-way interaction work, teams must remove any obstacles. Those obstacles traditionally stem from hierarchy, which, in Agile settings, tends to be flatter.

No barriers between teams and experts working together result in much more efficient outcomes. Adding Daily Scrum meetings and Sprints improved work process management. Teams started representing problems customers were facing in the form of user stories. They helped teams understand customers’ pain points better and articulate the workable solutions to address them.

User stories and solutions being generated at the team level were especially important for customer issues that were far too complex (or simply too new) for a boss to figure it all out on their own. Leadership no longer meant providing (and enforcing). Now leadership meant supporting your team and linking them with the organization’s business side.

Eventually, the importance of the Project Manager slowly started to give way to more product-centric roles. In SAFe, a phenomenon such as “project” doesn’t exist, and the traditional role of a Project Manager has changed to a Product Manager. The overall management became very customer-centric and based its decisions on the needs and satisfaction of customers.

Twenty-two years later: The current state of Agile

February 2023 marked the 22nd anniversary of signing the Agile Manifesto. The world has changed quite a bit since the Snowbird 17 summit. Still, adopting an Agile approach across organizations on multiple levels takes time. And because Agile is a mindset, this methodology also needs time to mature and “grow” in the organization.

Agile adoption

According to the 16th State of Agile 2022 report, 4 out of 5 respondents report to practice Agile with respect to some of the processes. At the same time, half of the organizations use Agile with other methodologies. For 25% of them, such a hybrid approach works well for them. Only 48% are somewhat satisfied out of the remaining respondents, while 27% are not.

Source: State of Agile, 2022

 

Interestingly, as found by Appfire’s recent comprehensive report on “Agile today and tomorrow (2023),” 94 percent of respondents said they practice Agile. Overall, Agile looks to be well on the way to entering more and more organizations.

Maturity levels across regions

Appfire’s research reveals that European organizations lead in Agile maturity level (70%), surpassing North America (45 percent) and APAC countries (48%).

Source: Agile Today and Tomorrow, 2023

 

The Netherlands (100%) emerged as the unquestionable leader in Europe, because most survey respondents there have been practicing Agile for more than a year. The Netherlands was closely followed by France, with 93% of respondents there having a year+ experience in Agile methodologies. 

As for the APAC region, Australia was the most experienced Agile practitioner.

Source: Agile Today and Tomorrow, 2023

Satisfaction with Agile

72% of respondents are very or somewhat satisfied with the state of Agile in their organizations. They praise improved collaboration, as well as better alignment with the business, and a better work environment. The remaining 28% splits between barely satisfied and not satisfied at all.

Source: State of Agile, 2022

Challenges in adopting Agile

What’s the most challenging aspect of adopting Agile in the organization from the people’s perspective? The report reveals that culture, leadership, and consistency are three key challenges to successful Agile adoption in an organization.

Agile is a mindset that is not intuitive to grasp. Some leaders and cross-functional teams struggle to understand what Agile really means. 44% observed that there’s not enough leadership participation in Agile adoption. The second biggest challenge is insufficient knowledge about Agile (40%). And the third is a general resistance toward shifting to Agile (40%).

Source: State of Agile, 2022


The State of Agile report also mentions the role of company culture in shifting toward Agile. Organizations where Agile practices clash with organizational culture reported being unsuccessful in delivering Agile. 

Another important factor is the tools in use. Even though most of the respondents practice Agile, about half of them still work in a hybrid model. Consequently, 42% still use legacy tools that require a mixed methodology approach.

And even when Agile is in use, 40% of users follow Agile practices inconsistently. The reason is largely the legacy heterogeneous tools that, when coupled with a mix of methodologies, make matters worse. 

Agile transformation tool

With all these changes and transitions, organizations can find it difficult to make the change seamlessly. Flexible software that supports the continuously evolving practices around Agile can help. BigPicture answers that description perfectly. 

Thanks to the continued development and fast customer feedback loop, BigPicture offers a clear, structured 360-degree view of all planned, ongoing, and completed initiatives across the organization — regardless of the approaches, methodologies, or frameworks used.