To someone not familiar with it, “Agile Manifesto” might sound like an initiation into a philosophical sect, or perhaps the guiding principles of an ancient order of especially athletic knights.
Those familiar with it are aware of the clever twist: this seemingly grandiose title houses a collection of down-to-earth principles and advice that have changed software development forever, and for the better.
But, let’s start the story from the beginning…
Agile Manifesto: The Origin Story
Back in early 2001, in the crisp mountain air of Snowbird, Utah, a group of 17 visionaries gathered at a ski resort to reshape the future of software development.
United by a shared frustration with process obsession, these minds who came from diverse programming backgrounds, sought a remedy for the issues that plagued their field.
The consensus among this group, now known as the Agile Alliance, was a recognition that companies were excessively focused on planning and documentation, at the expense of customer satisfaction.
The solution to this spreading problem was forged by these 17 individuals, over an extended weekend, in the form of a concise document, just 68 words long but brimming with transformative insights and directions, described in 12 principles.
The 12 Principles
In short, these 12 principles presented a base for a 180-degree shift in software development, emphasizing collaboration, adaptability, and above all, customer-centricity.
Employee-centricity was deemed equally important, as these principles advocate for maintaining a sustainable pace of work, prioritize motivated individuals, constant communication, and focus on simplicity. Effective, happy employees = happy clients.
The 4 Agile Values (Otherwise Known as “Do This, Not That”)
The 4 agile values simplify and further support the 12 principles, but are fairly short and to the point so we can mention them all.
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.
These can be taken as high-level guiding statements that emphasize the living, breathing aspect of cooperation versus “inanimate” bits, such as tools, documentation and plans.
This isn’t to suggest that the latter (tools, documentation, and plans) are no longer important. However, we have become accustomed to prioritizing them over the dynamic and untameable aspects that form the essence of successful collaboration.
So we come to the central idea from the title.
Is Agile a Project Manager’s Nightmare?
Agile manifesto appears to challenge everything that project managers stand for: well-defined processes, standardized workflows and meticulous oversight at all times.
Also, agile’s emphasis on adaptability brings an array of challenges and uncertainties.
Inconsistent Workflow: this is one of the primary concerns for project managers, as managing a workflow that thrives on change and constant adaptability can be a challenging adjustment.
Inability to form long-term plans: The conventional path of project management approach and the creation of detailed long-term plans shifts to a more flexible, adaptive mindset. The uncertainty introduced by the very nature of agile can be perceived as a roadblock to the structured, long-term planning processes that are often seen as something to strive for.
Shift of Attention Towards Client Needs…at the Expense of Employee Well Being?
Agile places significant emphasis on customer collaboration and meeting their expectations. Project managers usually see themselves as bridges between clients and employees, so it’s understandable that they feel uneasy when the balance they carefully maintain might be threatened.
As PMs wrestle with these challenges and questions, they might also wonder if Agile is still relevant. After all, it's been more than 20 years since it came to existence.
Is Agile Still Relevant?
In short, yes. It will probably never stop being relevant. Agile is not to be taken literally or rigidly, and as such it is more to be regarded as a compass - a reminder that human interaction is really at the basis of any kind of business. Since it’s not going anywhere, let’s see how project managers can effectively reconcile the need for long-term planning with the flexibility and adaptability that Agile demands.
Reconciling Agile with Project Management
Harmony between agile’s dynamic nature and the need for structure and long-term planning is achievable with a slightly different approach, a bit of faith, and openness.
Meeting client demands is non-negotiable, and employee well-being is equally important. Also, project managers overthinking and exhausting themselves until they burn out is simply not an option.
It might sound corny, but the best strategy for success in this situation is communication.
Regular communication and collaboration are the bedrock for creating a seamless network between clients, managers and employees: that’s what agile is all about. Recognizing our shared humanity, and the need to communicate and understand each other extends to the business realm.
By creating an environment that supports a sustainable pace of work and openness, project managers can align employee well-being with client expectations.
Embracing Agile as a Tool
For project managers, understanding this seemingly elusive balance involves recognizing the individual needs as a project manager: those of the clients, the employees, and their own.
Even though “Agile Manifesto” might sound like something set in stone, it is not a rigid set of rules to be blindly followed. Instead, it serves as a tool and a reminder that while bureaucracy has its place, being human is at the core of all interactions and collaborations.
After all, when you step back and reflect, you might say that the Agile Manifesto is not a list of orders but sensible pieces of advice… with an intriguing name.
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