4 Plus 12 Reasons Why Agile Now More Than Ever

“Agile, what value art thou now that we are remote and apart?”

I, like many Agile practitioners, have been and continue to be impacted by this endemic pandemic. Degrees of impact ranging from digitizing interactions, events and Post-it notes to a dearth of jobs. It’s been all fun and games as I have enjoyed the challenge of experimenting and learning how to virtualize all the physical aspects of Agile ways. But, as I continue to search for my next opportunity, my emotions have cycled between fear, joy, sadness and anger.

  • Fear that I’ll never work again.
  • Joy at the slightest hint of an opportunity.
  • Sadness when the opportunity fades away or doesn’t pan out.
  • Anger when I’m left hanging with nary an update.

It feels like riding a never-ending roller coaster leading to “who knows where” by way of “come what may”.

It’s given me pause to question the value of Agile ways in this new COVID reality.

Well, it was actually my wife that gave me pause when she innocently asked,

“What are you ‘Agile people’ going to do now?

How are you going to add value when everyone is remote?

Is this the end of Agile?

I wonder how many of you are experiencing a similar roller coaster or at least a pause to reflect upon similar questions. If you are, then I empathize.

As I reflected on my wife’s questions, I started at the same place I would have if someone were to ask me “What’s Agile?”. The Agile Manifesto. In the past, each time I’ve read it, I’ve paused at a different part, at a different phrase, at a different word and gained new insights. I suppose it had a lot to do with what was and wasn’t on my mind at the time. So now, I thought I’d go back to that familiar well to see what it could offer up this time as I pondered those questions.

Are the 4 values + 12 principles = 16 reasons for Agile still relevant in our new COVID reality?

Here are my thoughts on each one.

#1: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Still relevant? Yes.

Is it me or does it seem like every e-collaboration tool vendor has gone into hyperdrive to market their products and services? Endless webinars and newsletters demonstrating how they can remote-enable and digitize all our favourite Agile activities and artifacts. Tools are great and I’m never adverse to learning yet another way to collaborate. On the other hand, I don’t wish to get over-run by tools. We need to tame the tools. Tools aren’t the answer. How individuals and people use the tools to achieve a specific purpose is a better answer. Processes are great in times of stability. Process is no substitute for ingenuity needed during chaotic times. Ingenuity emerges from interactions amongst individuals and the environment. Let’s max out on interactions.

#2: Working software over comprehensive documentation

Still relevant? Yes.

Working software never goes out of style. Seeing is believing. Working software is worth a zillion words and provides fodder for the next round of working software. Documentation is wasteful. It tends to turn yellow over time if it doesn’t get shredded or burned first. What I’ve noticed during the pandemic is there seems to be an uptick in the amount of documentation needed. Not so much related to the software that’s being developed. More so, to capture, clarify and confirm mutual understanding exists after almost every virtual meeting. What use to take a few minutes to spontaneously and verbally confirm in person after a meeting now requires an email to be drafted and sent. Because once an e-meeting ends, it’s really over. Everyone is disconnected and apart again!

#3: Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Still relevant? Yes.

Inviting traditional customers to work in an agile way has always been difficult. They very rarely invest time beyond writing the requirements upfront and signing the contract to begin the work. Well, guess what? The old, traditional way of working with customers has evaporated. You know it and more importantly, your customers know it. Now is a great time to re-invite and re-introduce your customers to a different way of working. They may finally see the need to work more collaboratively throughout an engagement, not just at the beginning.

When it comes to contract negotiations, what used to transpire between two sides of a long boardroom table now take place over videoconferencing in people’s homes complete with pets, families and personal décor. All of a sudden, the negotiators see each other as real, unique and interesting people rather than impersonal adversaries. People collaborate, adversaries negotiate.

#4: Responding to change over following a plan

Still relevant? YES!

Over the last 20 plus weeks, it’s been nothing but change on top of change on a daily basis. No plan has survived this reality. Trying to set and follow a plan during COVID is like trying to herd bees. In less than 1 year, COVID has undone over 100 years of traditional management thinking mired in the fallacy of effortful upfront planning followed by flawless execution. Good thing Agile ways are all about welcoming and responding to change. Agile planning is fluid.

#5: Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

Still relevant? Yes.

When everyone is scattered in their own personal bunkers, it’s hard to collectively keep the customer top of mind. The parable of the “Blind Men and an Elephant” comes to mind. The value we deliver is defined in the eyes of the customer. It’s more important now than ever to focus collectively on the customer and get their feedback on progress as frequently as possible.

#6: Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

Still relevant? Yes.

Before COVID, Agile ways encouraged people to realize and accept the need for change. Not because customers were finicky or indecisive but because their world was swirling. During COVID, their swirling world has accelerated into a funnel cloud, and we’re all caught in it. There’s nothing like a shared challenge to generate empathy and an even greater level of acceptance.

#7: Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

Still relevant? Yes.

A rhythm of small batch deliveries makes even more sense during times of extreme uncertainty. Why not deliver 1 customer recognizable and market ready feature now rather than 3 features later? Waiting for all 3 may see the market vanish for the 1 that’s ready now. Developing that delivery rhythm needed coordination and synchronization of all teams before COVID. That need is much greater now with dispersed team members. Companies are already experiencing productivity declines, delivery delays and missed commitments due to the inherent inefficiencies of remote work. Restoring rhythm first is more important than volume.

#8: Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

Still relevant? Yes.

I’ve found that daily dialogue with the business stakeholders even if it was just the business attending a team’s daily standup helped surface misunderstandings and answer questions in a timely manner before adversely impacting work-in-progress. Opportunities to interact daily in some way are needed even more so when everyone is remote. It helps all stakeholders get on and stay on the same page.

#9: Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

Still relevant? YES!

It’s hard to micro-manage what you can’t see or hear. Yet, from what I’ve seen and heard, micro-managing was how some managers intuitively responded when everyone was sent home due to COVID. Micro-management erodes trust. Instead, managers should channel their efforts towards removing obstacles to effective remote working conditions, enabling flow of information and energizing individuals when needed. Agile practitioners can be a great source of support for this.

#10: The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

Still relevant? Yes, and…

During COVID, it’s meant making do with virtual face-to-face conversations. Not ideal but on the other hand, one person I chatted with mentioned her virtual one-to-one conversations seemed so much more intimate than ever before. Most likely due to meeting with and seeing each other where they live. Seeing each other in casual comfort wear can definitely change our perceptions of each other. Unfortunately, fully co-located team members in physically enclosed team rooms may be a thing of the past. But then again, Agile is more than all team members sitting together in the same physical space. Now is an opportunity to evolve beyond physical co-location without compromising the intimacy of conversations.

#11: Working software is the primary measure of progress.

Still relevant? Yes.

After all the metrics noise and excuses settle down, it’s still the most telling measure. Enough said.

#12: Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Still relevant? YES!

Working from home with little to no separation between work time and personal time can be a slippery slope. It can lead to an unsustainable business pace, personal burn-out and damage to family relationships. Work-life balance has never been more challenging and more important than now.

#13: Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

Still relevant? Yes.

One of the benefits of everything going online during COVID has been the removal of all geographical barriers to learning and collaboration. Local communities of practice, meetups and conferences are now accessible globally. Access to anyone in the world has never been easier. The world has become our oyster for the pursuit of technical excellence and good design.

#14: Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.

Still relevant? Yes.

The challenge of aligning and synchronizing a fully distributed workforce can be fraught with redundancy and rework. Couple that with elongated feedback loops during COVID and a focus on avoiding or eliminating wasted effort is more important now than ever.

#15: The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

Still relevant? Yes.

Nurturing self-organizing teams was hard at the best of times. It can be next to impossible during COVID without the support of Agile practitioners.

#16: At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

Still relevant? YES!

Team reflection and improvement is one of the most important Agile practices, if not the most important. No wonder there’s so much content being shared in the Agile-verse for how to virtualize team retrospectives. The sudden remoteness of our colleagues has created challenges to sustaining the psychological safety and the prime directive’s blame-free mantra essential to effective retrospectives.

Are Agile, and Agile practitioners still relevant in our new COVID reality?

YES! More now than ever before. Good to know for those of us…

  • Who have lost their jobs due to COVID and worry about future prospects as an Agile practitioner
  • Who have lost faith in Agile and are starting to turn to other ways of working

Time to double-down on your Agile investment.

2 thoughts on “4 Plus 12 Reasons Why Agile Now More Than Ever

  1. Great article Frank. I really liked your variations and explanations on Yes!!

    Sourcing (CTI leadership term for putting something into the space so that it can manifest itself) your next opportunity and contract 😀


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