Bottom-Up Change: The Agile Manifesto at 10

The most enduring and most people-positive change starts at the bottom: Bottom-Up Change. It starts with the few, then spreads to the many.

People-positive change is change that benefits the common good. The principles of the Agile Manifesto have improved my professional life as a software developer.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Agile Manifesto Turns 10

17 software developers convened in Snowbird Utah in 2001 to discuss lightweight development methods. Out of the Snowbird meeting came the Agile Software Manifesto.

The manifesto is a rallying cry: it says what we stand for and also what we are opposed to.
~Martin Fowler

Full Disclosure – Considering the arc of the Agile phenomenon, I am a newbie. The only reason I might have been at Snowbird in February 2001 was to re-live a romantic notion of myself as a ski bum. The truth is, I knew nothing about Agile methods until I joined a David Hussman coached team in 2006.

The advent of the 10th anniversary of the inception of the Agile Manifesto next February has me probing the nature of change and revisiting the stated principles in the manifesto.

The Nature of Change

On change, Nathaniel Branden said

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.

Did Branden miss The Movement? Did he miss some steps before acceptance?

  1. Organization – Convening & engaging like-minds to rally around change;
  2. Inspiration – Inspiring first followers to virally grow change.

The most enduring change germinates at the bottom. The old saw

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink

means people, like horses, will do what they have a mind to do. Directives, top-down plans, and top-down change rarely endure.

Shoehorning Agile

Agile doesn’t scale particularly well. People-centric principles in the Agile Manifesto fall by the wayside in the ponderous, profit-take-all organization. Agile principles like customer collaboration or individuals and interactions are summarily ignored in ponderous organizations because there’s ostensibly cheaper developers to be had in remote locations. That your organization dictates the use of cheaper developers, is a smell.

There are exceptions. To be sure the challenge of Scaling Agile has stoked an industry for consultants, coaches, and charlatans. But it’s a fools game.

Shoe-horning Agile into the ponderous, profit-take-all organization often – some would say inevitably – leads to a twisted Agile Lite bastardization where people must make do with sub-optimal conditions and where

process & ceremony trump humanity and practicality

Sub-optimal constraints are today’s reality. But at what point does leaning on people to absorb and adapt to sub-optimal constraints lead to diminished returns?

Dictatorships and oligarchies have been proven untenable time and time again. It seems Agile principles are at odds with current corporate charters.

Thinking Forward

The ponderous organization’s resistance to transformative change and transformative learning appears to be peaking. The antithesis of the ponderous organization, the Lean Startup, is gaining momentum. Lean startup principles are rooted in transformative learning.

Resisting transformative movements is unstable.

It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.
~W. Edwards Deming

Lasting change and people-positive movements start with passionate people, then infiltrate into the cadres of controllers that infest ponderous organizations. Movement is sparked by passionate people who organize and inspire; not by cadres of controllers.

Agile at 10 years is a double-edged phenomena:  People continuing to do transformative work, and a growing numbers of ponderous organizations paying lip service to change.

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