Do You Believe in Manifestos?

Pride and Professionalism

P.: Have you read the Manifesto for Software Craftsmanship?
TJ: Not another manifesto!
P.: Don’t you find it useful?
TJ: Manifestos might be useful to those who write it. If they need reminding of it, I guess they can carry it around in their pocket.
P.: I think it’s synonymous with ‘Professionalism’.

The Nature of Agile

The thing that resonated with me most when I first came across Agile was the four (and then five) XP Values from Kent Beck’s ‘Extreme Programming Explained’, first published in 2000. At the time, it seemed to make so much sense. And it still does. Common sense by definition endures.

For me, Agile represents a common sense approach for mitigating risks on projects against a backdrop of change and uncertainty by providing Real Options.

The Problem with the Agile Manifesto

The Agile Manifesto, like the Manifesto for Software Craftsmanship, makes for a short and easy read. What’s more I agree with the points made in both manifestos. The problem with the manifestos isn’t therefore about the content, but rather in its transmission to those new to Agile or outside of the Agile Community.

Let’s take the Agile Manifesto as an example. I appreciate the spirit in which the manifesto was written, but I don’t use it when I coach. In my experience, citing the Agile Manifesto typically gives people more cause to resist or reject Agile because they view it as a series of words written by a small clique in a galaxy far, far away. Most people’s immediate reaction to having the pre-fabricated manifesto thrust before them is one of suspicion, skepticism and plain old incredulity. After all, how willing would you be to accept a series of pre-written points without question?

Time and time again, I’ve seen how quoting the Agile Manifesto slows down the introduction of Agile unnecessarily, resulting in the creation of waste: a waste of breath, energy and, most importantly, time.

Pragmatic Agile Coaching

1. Begin with the team’s values and then link them to the Agile (XP) Values.

  • Demonstrate the importance of teamwork by facilitating the creation of the team’s own Team Manifesto.
  • Use the Agile (XP) Values to start a conversation about the meaning and importance of teamwork.
  • Engage team members by asking them to define each of the values with their own words.
  • Make the values relevant to each and everyone through a Personal Agility Rating exercise.
  • Highlight that the Agile Values together define ‘Collaboration’ (typically one of the values identified by the team for the team during the Team Manifesto exercise).
  • Use the values to establish an agreed way of working.
  • Use the values to continue the conversation about Continuous Improvement during 1-2-1 Agile Coaching.
  • Lead by example by endeavouring to live and work by the Agile Values.

2. Introduce the Agile (XP) Practices.

  • Begin to introduce practices as soon as possible so that the team can experience the difference between the traditional and the Agile way of working.
  • Explain the practices in the context of a typical 2-week iteration.
  • Start off with Iteration 0 immediately, made up of training, coaching, trying out the practices plus any project setup activities in preparation for Iteration 1 when we will begin implementing stories. 

3. Allude to the Agile (XP) Principles only if it is valuable to learning.

  • Introduce the Agile (XP) Principles should the opportunity arise to supplement the team’s understanding of what being agile means. For instance, if someone asks why Retrospectives are useful, I might reply: ‘Retrospectives allow us to apply the Agile Principle of Reflection so that we can continuously improve.’
  • Never talk through the 14 principles in one go because mere discussion doesn’t enhance understanding.

How effective is your coaching?

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