Any good movement has a manifesto, which is a public declaration of policy and intention. There have been manifestos for art movements, political movements and just about anything you can think of. More along the lines of project management, though, is the Agile Manifesto.
Agile is a bit of a controversial topic in the field. Some call it a methodology, while others refer to it as a framework. Either way, agile offers a fast and nimble way to work that first benefited software development before expanding its reach to almost every industry. Now, even project management traditionalists who use Gantt charts and waterfall projects, are heeding the relevance of agile.
If you’re not familiar with agile, or have heard the word but still don’t have a firm handle on it, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Agile isn’t only polarizing, it can be difficult to understand for the uninitiated. That’s why we’re going to explain what agile is and the importance of the Agile Manifesto.
What Is Agile?
Like we wrote earlier, this is a loaded question. It can be a minefield, so we’re going to step carefully and try to provide you with an uncontroversial definition of agile. Feel free to stir the pot as you become well-versed in the subject.
The phrase agile software development was first used in 2001, but agile was in fact applied to projects since the mid-1990s. Software developers started to emphasize close collaboration between teams and stakeholders, frequent delivery of business value and self-organizing teams. But, it wasn’t until the Agile Manifesto, that these ideas were codified.
The Role of Change
According to the Agile Alliance, “Agile is the ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment.”
In other words, agile is about adaptiveness and responding quickly to changes as they come up, as they always do, in a project. This is a way of thinking, more than a methodology, some would say, as it’s not so structured as to become rigid and calcified in process. However, the importance of change is made clear in the Agile Manifesto.
Agile speaks to the fast-changing world of software development and understanding that environment, which is often fraught with uncertainty. Agile provides a framework in which to respond and adapt to those changes.
The Role of Cross-Functional Teams
Agile focuses on collaborative teams that are self-organizing and cross-functional. That means they come up with solutions to issues themselves and each team member has multiple skills sets. Because they work fairly autonomously, the Agile Manifesto helps set guidelines for behaviors and priorities.
There are still managers of course; it’s just that they serve the team rather than manage them, making sure they have the right skill set. They also create an environment that frees the team to be successful. Therefore, managers are mostly in the background after they set the stage for the team. However, they can jump in as needed to help resolve issues.
What Is the Agile Manifesto?
So, we’ve hinted at the Agile Manifesto long enough—let’s define it. While agile was in use, there was no unifying or consistent way to describe the burgeoning framework. In 2001, a group of 17 people working in the industry, codified the approach at a ski resort in Snowbird, Utah. This was the birth of the Agile Manifesto.
While the group didn’t agree on everything (foreshadowing the heated debate that would surround the subject moving forward) they did provide two main components to agile, which stand today: a set of value statements that form the foundation of agile software development and coining the term itself.
From this meeting grew the ideas that would become the Agile Manifesto, which outlines four fundamental values and the 12 principles which guide agile software development.
The Four Agile Values in the Agile Manifesto
If you’re looking for how agile differentiates itself from the traditional methodologies used to manage projects, such as the waterfall methodology, the four agile values clearly delineate the uniqueness of the framework. The text in bold is quoted directly from the manifesto itself.
- Individuals and interactions over process and tools: Agile places more importance on people over process and even tools. People respond to business needs and drive the development process. Process and tools by their very nature are less responsive to change and can be unable to meet customer needs.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation: Documentation takes time. It’s part of a slower process than agile is arguing against. Each piece of documentation, from technical requirements to testing plans and other specifications, requires approval. This delays development. Agile is about streamlining, not eliminating documentation. While documentation has its value, in the agile mindset, it is software that is paramount.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: Customers and product managers must work out the details of delivery, but rather than negotiate this process, agile champions collaboration. For example, in traditional project management methodologies, customers negotiate the requirements for the product in detail—before work starts. However, agile includes the customer throughout the life cycle of the project for their continual feedback.
- Responding to changes over following a plan: While change happens, it’s to be avoided as much as possible when working with a traditional project management methodology. However, agile works in short iterations called sprints, because their brevity allows for changes and even embraces them as a way to improve a project and add value.
The 12 Principles of Agile Development
- Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
- Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
- Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
- Businesspeople and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
- Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.
- The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
- Working software is the primary measure of progress.
- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
- Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.
- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
Is Agile a Methodology?
Some say, if it walks like a duck, it’s a duck. But the issue is more complicated than that. While, as we stated earlier, we have no horse in the race, software engineers and the author has a good definition. Here’s a quote from his History: The Agile Manifesto.
“The agile movement is not anti-methodology, in fact, many of us want to restore credibility to the word methodology. We want to restore a balance. We embrace modeling, but not in order to file some diagram in a dusty corporate repository. We embrace documentation, but not hundreds of pages of never maintained and rarely used tomes. We plan but recognize the limits of agile planning in a turbulent environment. Those who would brand proponents of XP or Scrum or any of the other agile methodologies as “hackers” are ignorant of both the methodologies and the original definition of the term hacker.”
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