In the summer of 2023, The Adaptavist Group convened some of the industry's leading agile experts for a special roundtable—Agile back-to-basics: foundations, interpretations, and paving the way forward.
With so much experience in one place, we invited a few of those experts to share more in a series of fireside talks—a fantastic opportunity to delve even deeper into some of the issues surrounding agile transformation.
For our second fireside chat, we reunited The Adaptavist Group's own Jon Kern, Digital Transformation Consultant, with fellow co-author of the Agile Manifesto Jim Highsmith. They chatted to Issac Sacolick, President of StarCIO and contributing editor of InfoWorld and CIO Magazine, about:
- What's changed in agile (and what's stayed the same) since they contributed to the manifesto.
- How a dedication to structure can sacrifice substance.
- What every agile team needs to do, regardless of technology or desired outcomes.
Watch the full fireside chat here or keep reading to get the key insights
Mindset over matter
"“I used to joke, back in the Java days, that very little is new under the sun. It's still true today that the core of what we do, the manifesto's values, still applies if you understand it."
In the 23 years since the Agile Manifesto was published, the tools, practices, and terminology around agility have changed significantly—from DevOps and automation to value stream processes. But the core problems and challenges businesses face are the same as they were back then.
If anything, Jon said it should be easier to be agile now, with the tools and knowledge at our fingertips. In the past, teams had to build automation tools themselves. Jim mentioned how when they got started, programmers used punch cards and had to wait more than 12 hours to get results back—something that's unfathomable to today's developers.
"Today, there's no excuse if you're not working in a highly agile manner. While the challenges are the same, I would say in some sense, it's easier than ever to live up to the values."
While developers' methodologies might have changed, their mindset has remained the same and is often the thing lacking from organisations struggling to become more agile. This is a mindset of agility—not necessarily in terms of methodology—but understanding how to deliver the most value to a customer within a reasonable timeframe.
"The simplest version of mindset change to me is going from a plan–do approach—I plan it out in detail, and then I do it—to an envision-explore approach. Here, you envision the future of what you need to do, and you do the plan to the level you need to do it, and then you explore it."
Different decades, the same problems
"I try to talk to them about adaptive agility, and I shouldn't have to use the adjective, but you must sometimes because people get so enamoured with the structure that they lose out."
With more teams and different types of businesses doing more with technology than ever, we haven’t escaped some of the issues people have struggled with for decades: how do we get teams to collaborate? How do we define our goals so we know what the inputs are? How do we communicate the ‘why’? And how do we define our customers?
These are all things the manifesto encouraged people to identify and address. But with the evolution of new methodologies, agile has come an overly structured approach that prevents the experimentation and exploration necessary to realise its benefits—what Jim refers to as 'prescriptive agility'.
"I think we'll always need agility, but we'll get at it in different ways. If you look at what's going on in the world right now, you don't know what's going to happen. I, for example, am really concerned about insurance companies, with climate change, there's going to be a big change. Are they ready for it? And the only way to be ready for it is to be agile."
Agile for everyone
"We are pushing an interaction-first approach, which means people talking. It sounds so silly to have to say this, but the biggest failure I see are teams that don't really talk."
Agile is no longer the preserve of dedicated software developers; we’ve got low-code platform teams using it and multidisciplinary teams getting in on the action, including data scientists, UX designers, and marketers. All these agile enthusiasts need to remember the first bullet point of the manifesto: individuals and interactions over processes and tools. That means talking to others across the organisation and finding ways to facilitate easier collaboration.
"[Prioritising people and interactions] is part of the agile movement that will endure. Whether the tools will or not. But as you move into what I call 'business agility', the focus, the purpose, is to make our organisations resilient to the turbulent times, and that's going to be very important over the next few years."
Another important universal bit of advice from Jon is to be a bit lazy and see what you can get away with, rather than succumbing to a keep-busy culture where a lot of work is wasted time. It's a super simple way to make a beeline for the most necessary and important work, instead of spending time on something that's not actually required.
"If somebody’s asking you for a UX design or marketing plan, try to submit the smallest thing possible, and get some feedback. Or go and ask the person: what do you need? What can I do for you? ... With this ‘technique’, you can literally start anywhere in the organisation and say: "Who do you work with? Let’s build a relationship and then an understanding and agreement on how we work together.""