What Has The Agile Manifesto Uncovered For Me?

One of my favourite pieces of art in my house is a photograph of a lighthouse being pummeled by a raging storm off the coast of Brittany. Like a fist of defiance jutting straight out of the water, it endures the pelting waves, spray and froth effortlessly, stoically. And more than that, it is a beacon of hope shining its one million candlepower light through the mist and fog of night.

There are few things in life that inspire me as sublimely as that picture of a lighthouse.

One exception is the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development”, commonly referred to as the “Agile Manifesto”. This month and year marks the 20th anniversary of that beacon of hope for people working in organizations the world over. Hope for better ways of working.

When I first became aware of the term “Agile” over 10 years ago, I was not impressed nor interested. That lack of interest was more a function of how it was being introduced into the organization where I worked than of the potential that it held for eventually rocking my world. It was pushed down from the top with no context, training or respect for people. One day, Management just decided to bring in people from the outside who were going to “work with us” and tell us how we needed to work differently. No respect or consideration for the past. Why things were the way they were. Just “do it this way”. People on the inside felt confused, undermined and betrayed. It was especially hard for me as I had always valued context, transparency and respect for people.

Much of that was honed at IBM where I was raised on Thomas J. Watson’s three Basic Beliefs,

  1. Respect for the Individual. Respect for the dignity and rights of each person in the organization.
  2. Customer Service. To give the best customer service of any company in the world.
  3. Excellence. The conviction that an organization should pursue all tasks with the objective of accomplishing them in a superior way.

The first belief was my favourite because it focused on people. I had spent many years at IBM being a part of, as well as building great teams. Spurred on by that first basic belief and its corollary, respect for individuals.

Little wonder that years later, I would augment my favourite IBM Basic Belief with my favourite Agile Manifesto value: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”.

Following that inauspicious introduction to Agile ways, my subsequent encounters with instances of the Agile Manifesto could only be described as nothing short of mind-blowing and life-changing. The manifesto has been my constant companion lighting my way to a new me.

Here’s what the Agile Manifesto has uncovered for me over the years since that first encounter…

That there’s a whole world of possibilities after life as a 20th century Taylorist manager.

That’s it’s ok not to have all the answers. Or even any of the answers for that matter.

That 1+1 > 2 more often than not.

That courage starts with showing up. Even if you’re the only one.

That friends can be for life.

That working because I want to is much better than working because I have to.

That my journey is my journey and my journey alone.

That change can be embraced.

That small is beautiful.

That it’s ok to take my mask off. Both my work mask and my ethnic mask.

Twenty years after the signing of the Agile Manifesto by its 17 authors, I’m grateful to it and those 17 thought leaders. Grateful for what it’s meant to me. Grateful for who I’ve become. And grateful for who I will become. Like the picture of the lighthouse on my wall, the manifesto holds enduring value for me.

A bright light standing in the night.

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