Three Decades of Agile

The Agile Manifesto [1], created in 2001, brought about a significant shift in the development of (software) products. The values and principles in the manifesto have since evolved and expanded, and we continue to discover better ways to implement them. Overall, the changes have been positive and continue to benefit the industry.

This article discusses the journey we have collectively taken over the past few decades and predicts what is to come. It also highlights the varying levels of maturity that different teams possess, as well as the obstacles that may impede their ability to create value now and in the future. 

This discussion is relevant to every team and organization, whether they face challenges typical of previous decades, current challenges, or future challenges. Those who fail to rise to the challenge risk being outperformed by those who do.

In this article, I will refer to the decades as if they represent clear milestones of progress. However, this is a rough oversimplification of what has happened in the Agile community, as well as for individual organizations and teams. 

My intention is not to suggest that organizations and teams struggling with issues associated with earlier decades are old-fashioned or doing things wrong. Each organization and team faces unique challenges and has its legacy to contend with. However, I have learned that referring to 2000s-level teams, from a change perspective, is much more potent than addressing structural team problems. The latter is too easy to ignore or make excuses for.

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Forget all about Agile Transformations

I have learned over many years of implementing Agile that words, and the images they create, are crucial for your success as change agents. To succeed, it is important that you can explain, what is going to happen, and how it is going to happen in a meaningful way.

I have been heading several of what we called agile transformations without deeper reflection on why we picked that word. I guess we just followed the majority of the agile community without considering the impact that it would have on our efforts to help the organizations to become more agile.

Which images appear in your imagination when you hear the word transformation?

The most used illustration of transformations regardless of kind, is the one from being a caterpillar to become a butterfly. Why’s that?

It visualizes a radical change in form, appearance[note][/note] etc, the result is one of the most beautiful animals on earth and most of us associate it with warm summer vacations. All the way through attractive. The butterfly is also much more agile and free than the slow caterpillar.

And no doubt: Becoming agile is a radical change for large corporations. It is not just employees put in teams doing Scrum events. It is a much more profound change of every part of the organization including the company culture. To describe the extend of the change required to be agile, the word transformation and the image of the butterfly is a good metaphor. The agility and beauty of the butterfly is also an attractive image for the end result of an agile transformation. But does it actually reflect the process of becoming agile?

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