In February 2001, a group of renegade software developers met in the mountains of Utah and came up with the Agile Manifesto, a set of rules and principles that would go on to revolutionise how software is developed at the world’s leading technology companies.
Today, Silicon Valley’s influence is pervasive, and a lot of the success is easily attributed to the wide-scale adoption of the Agile Manifesto.
Agile is no longer just for tech geeks, and we, lay people, can no longer afford to be ignorant about it. Agile principles are creeping into wider use in all other industries, for example they have recently been adopted at companies like Walmart and Verizon.
What is the Agile Manifesto?
In the time before agile, software development was a very formulaic and step by step process.
When someone decided that they wanted a new software created, they developed a very clear specification of what they hoped to see. Developers then worked backwards from that list come up with the necessary steps in the development process.
They then set about the process of creating the software. This process was largely stifling and slowed the pace of innovation. Critically, it had a high failure rate!
Recognising that something needed to change, leading developers organised a three day retreat in 2001 to brainstorm ideas on how to improve the software development process.
The Agile Manifesto is what came out of that retreat. It was signed by everyone who attended and codified the four values and 12 principles that would inform the new way of developing software in the future.
What are the 4 values of the Agile Manifesto?
The Agile Manifesto begins by outlining four value statements that indicate relative priorities for agile developer.
Each value is two sided statement, on the left of each statement are the things that are more valuable, on the right are the things that are regarded as less important to achieve.
These values are:
- Individual & interactions, over process & tools
- Working-software, over comprehensive-document
- Client-collaboration, over contract-negotiation
- Response to change, over following of a plan
No one value statement is described as being more important than the other. All the statements are underlaid by the same aspiration, to prioritise output over process in developing software.
The values in the Agile-Manifesto are designed to create a software development process that optimises functionality for the end user rather than having a perfectly laid out and compliant development process.
For example, the fourth value makes it very clear that if there is a pre agreed plan and events outside of this plan happen, you have to ditch the plan and continue developing the software based on the unplanned events.
What are the 12 Agile Manifesto Principles?
The most important part of the Agile Manifesto are the value statements. The twelve principles were written as logical conclusions that follow from those values.
They provide you as the agile developer, additional clarification on how the prioritisation defined in the value statements works in practice. Each of the 12 principles speaks to a different stage in the project-management cycle. You cannot help but be impressed by the precision and simplicity of the principles.
One principle is: Working software is the primary measure of progress.
All the other principles are equally brief and unambiguous. If you are working in an agile team, the principles give clear directives on how success is measured, the acceptable means and frequency of communication (in person and daily), and the pace of work. Crucially an agile, project is never done, and the pace of work should stay high.
What is agile SAFe?
One obvious limitation of Agile, is the principle we referenced at the end of the last section: Agile processes promote sustainable development.
The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
Working in indefinite high calibre process is a very tough ask. it would be impossible for any human team to work indefinitely and to a high standard without quitting or dying! It is for this reason that The Scaled Agile Framework or agile SAFe was developed.
You can think of agile SAFe as the version of Agile that people can actually do! It is a framework for delivering excellent outputs quickly and sustainably. It is agile, but with a reasonable bound on the time and effort expected.
It is the adaptation of the Agile Manifesto to creating agile SAFe that has enabled the increasing popularity of agile in mainstream business environments.
This is because agile SAFe is written in the language of business and can be time and budget bound. Crucial factors for evaluating the success of a commercial project.
What are the core values of SAFe?
There are four core SAFe agile values:
- Built in quality
- Program execution
SAFe is more of a project manager’s interpretation of agile. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, while you can list the four values as four short words and phrases, the explanation behind each value runs into a few paragraphs in length.
The essence of the SAFe agile core values is that there must be alignment of strategy and operations for any SAFe project to succeed.
Everyone must be on the same page. Regarding quality, all inputs should be of high quality. This makes sense, you cannot design high calibre products with bad inputs, hence built in quality.
The third value of transparency is about having frank and open communication on the project team, and maintaining visibility.
Finally, the fourth value of program executions, means that SAFe teams should retain a focus on doing.
We hope you enjoyed learning more about the Agile Manifesto and the core elements driving the approach. Agile is increasingly the working method across several businesses, including in non-tech teams.
This means it was really important to write this as an entry point for the average reader who might soon be working in an agile environment, or studying Agile topics, like the Agile Triangle, and many others.
Let us know your thoughts on the Agile Manifesto in the comments section. Do you think agile is effective as a general project management tool, or do you think it works best when restricted to software development projects? If you enjoyed this article, we ask you to please share it widely.