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Agile Coaches' Corner shares practical concepts in an approachable way. It is for agile practitioners and business leaders seeking expert advice on improving the way they work to achieve their desired outcomes. If you have a topic you'd like discussed, email it to, or tweet it with #agilethoughtpodcast.

Apr 2, 2021

Dan and Sam have covered a lot of ground in previous episodes about agility but never the full scope of what exactly is considered agility. Many people have their own unique definitions of what agile is and what it looks like…but when you really dig in, these are often ways that do not seem to be in alignment with the Agile Manifesto or principles.


So, in this week’s episode, Dan and Sam are diving into another fantastic listener question to address this topic! Chris on Twitter asked, “What is agile?” They take a deep dive into the history of why the Agile Manifesto was declared, the need that the principles and values were born out of, and ultimately: what is agile.


Key Takeaways

Why was it important for the Agile Manifesto to be declared? What is the history behind it?

It was created in reaction to what was happening in the software industry in 2001 (predominantly waterfall and other predictive methods with bad track records for delivering on time)

In response to “scope creep” (AKA changes or uncontrolled growth in a project’s scope at any point after a project begins)

Because it is very difficult to predict what you need to do when you’re trying to solve a new problem every time 

Out of necessity (as any work that requires creativity and a high degree of uncertainty about the outcome you’re trying to achieve [such as software development] is difficult without a set of principles and values)

Because every problem is unique with software development

In the Harvard Business Review in 1986, an article was published titled, “The New New Development Game” that outlined the need for a new way of working where teams could be given objectives instead of tasks and they work together as a unit to accomplish their work

The “relay race” method was clearly not working and agility offered a better model, better compared to playing rugby

“Agile wasn’t: ‘Let’s get together and think about a new way of doing things.’ It was: … ‘Hey, we’re doing some things. It seems to be getting better results than the industry as a whole. What are we doing that’s common across the different methods?’” — Dan Neumann

Those that came up with the Agile Manifesto didn’t put it together to justify their existence; they put it together because they recognized the success they were having through its methodology and wanted to figure out the commonalities

What is the Agile Manifesto?

It’s the thing we point to when someone says, “What is agile?”

If you’re asking if something is agile, you can reference the manifesto’s values and principles

What is agile?

It’s creating competitive advantage and being the disruptive force

Delivering working software as your primary measure of success

A collection of values and principles as laid out in the Agile Manifesto

It is the ability to deliberately respond to change and demand; not just react

Controlling risk

Building stuff that people actually want and will use

Solve the problem that the customer has called for and not gold plating everything

Agile practices are simply that; practices — they’re good in some circumstances and not good in others

Are you changing just to change or are you harnessing change for competitive advantage? Is change happening to you or are you creating the change?

Change is not just about keeping up with your competition but making your competition keep up with you


Mentioned in this Episode:

“The New New Product Development Game,” by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka | Harvard Business Review (January 1986)

Agile Software Development Ecosystems: Problems, Practices, and Principles, by James A. Highsmith

The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash A Culture of Innovation, by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless


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