Cliff Berg and Raj Nagappan on Agile 2: the Next Iteration of Agile


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Introductions [00:21]

Shane Hastie: Good day folks, this is Shane Hastie for the InfoQ Engineering Culture Podcast. I’m sitting down today with Cliff Berg and Raj Nagappan. You are two of the authors of Agile 2: The Next Iteration of Agile. Welcome, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

Cliff Berg: Our pleasure.

Raj Nagappan: Thanks very much for having us.

Shane Hastie: So Agile 2, why? We’ve got an Agile, it works. Or does it?

Why Agile 2 [00:46]

Raj Nagappan: I think it was quite timely, actually, to come up with another iteration of Agile, given that it’s a 20th anniversary of Agile at the moment. I think that just passed last month or the month before. What’s happened is that the world has moved on, so technology has moved on, business expectations have moved on and customer expectations have moved on. And I think that Agile really needs to catch up, it needs to iterate. So yeah. Agile is all about rapid iterations and the process itself, the philosophy itself, needs to iterate. And that’s exactly what we’ve done here.

Cliff Berg: Yeah, I would agree with that, and it seems like there are really powerful things in Agile. When the Agile Manifesto came out, I was 20 years into my career. And I was CTO of a company at the time, a small company, about 200 people. But we built some pretty significant stuff. B2B stuff that had to work. And we got our feet into Agile very early, so we were early adopters. It was Extreme Programming, actually, in 2000. And then Agile kind of took the mantle away from XP and kind of co-opted it in a way. But there were some really powerful, good ideas that resonate, basically make things simpler. Smaller teams, work incrementally, build a little at a time. Kind of simplify.

My sister loves books on simplify. That’s kind of what it was, simplify. Simplify for IT. And Raj was right, a lot of things have moved on and we have DevOps today which wasn’t really possible 20 years ago because it really was commodity virtualization that made cloud services possible, which really is kind of what made DevOps possible. But some of the core things really resonate. But a lot of dysfunction sprouted within the movement, which is very common with any movement. It’s normal. It’s not really trying to say, “Ah, we did this bad,” or something. This is like normal.

Some of the factors driving the need for course corrections in agile after 20 years [02:38]

Cliff Berg: And we feel that we need some course corrections and some of us also feel that the original ideas were really powerful but they weren’t quite right. They were good, they were great actually, but there were some issues. Especially like if you look at the Agile Manifesto, some of the principles are a little bit extreme, and one thing that I found in my career I believe is that extremes usually don’t work well. Unless you have an extreme situation. I’m not talking about Extreme Programming, that’s a whole topic, we could do 10 podcasts on Extreme Programming, but just in general. Extremes. Whenever I hear something that’s extreme, a red flag goes up.

So anyway, we feel that let’s revisit some of this stuff. And we also kind of tested what people think. We found that there are a lot of people in the Agile community and the IT community, especially among programmers, who feel like there’s some good stuff about Agile but there’s some stuff that we don’t like at all. So what is that?

Agile team rooms, the open plan office, just google that and you’ll see how many people hate that. So there’s some good things about it, it’s not all bad. And some people love it and some people don’t love it, there are differences too, and that’s another thing. The Agile movement kind of became like one size fits all in a lot of ways, like this is how we do it. So it’s been 20 years and we feel it’s a good time to just revisit some of this.

Raj Nagappan: Yeah, I definitely agree with that, and picking up on some of the themes that Cliff has mentioned, so when the Agile Manifesto came out, one of its key strengths was its simplicity. And that’s what enabled it to take off like a rocket, and simple messages spread very fast. The problem with simple messages though is that they’re also open to interpretation, and we’ve seen that in the intervening 20 years, we’ve seen Agile interpreted in many different ways and misinterpreted in many different ways too.

So for instance, the manifesto itself says we value the things on the left and we value the things on the right. In a lot of misinterpretations people will take that to say okay, we value the things on the left and not the things on the right. That’s like a common misappropriation. I think you can look up the Dark Agile Manifesto which says exactly that.

In itself, the Agile Manifesto was a great blueprint but I think it needed a bit more rigor around it, it needed a bit more fleshing out of well, actually, this is what we meant. We meant this and not that. So that’s how we ended up coming up with a bit more clarification.

Shane Hastie: What is the clarification? What are the key, I suppose we could say, themes or dare we even say values from Agile 2?

Introducing Agile 2 [05:11]

Raj Nagappan: Agile 2 has values and principles the same way that the original Agile Manifesto did. The first difference you notice is that there’s a lot more of them. So we have six pairs of values and we specifically say we value both of these things. So altogether, within those six pairs of values, you’ve got a dozen values altogether. And then in the principles we have 43 principles, I believe, and they’re grouped into a number of groups, how many groups are they? 10 groups. So 10 different areas.

It looks like a lot but there’s a lot of different ground that needs to be covered, because Agile software development, Agile development in general, whether it’s for software or hardware or anything else, is quite a complicated process, it’s quite a complicated beast. There are a lot of different things that you have to do.

But to come back to your question, I think probably the two most important themes that I would say that has come out for me from this process has been balance. So balanced the things on the left with the things on the right, that’s critical. And the other one is leadership. I think that leadership has been sorely missing from Agile up until this point and a lot of the dysfunctions that we see are from disconnects between conventional leadership and how Agile teams want to work. So that has created a real schism or a real friction and Agile 2 has a real focus on effective leadership.

Shane Hastie: Let’s explore those two themes. I see one of the values there, individual empowerment and good leadership. So individual empowerment, well, is it individual or is it teams? But there again there’s another value, individuals and teams. Oh, this is getting interwoven.

Raj Nagappan: Yes.

Shane Hastie: So let’s explore the leadership one.

Teams are made up of individuals – make sure you support them [06:45]

Raj Nagappan: Okay, so we’ve mentioned three different concepts here. So we’ve got leadership, we’ve got teams, and we’ve got individuals. And what happened in the original Agile is they basically talked about teams to the exclusion of the two others. But what you have to remember is even though there’s no I in team, teams are made up of individuals. And if you don’t also respect the aspirations and the requirements and the emotional needs of the individuals then your team’s not going to be effective.

For example, in a sports team, you can take a whole bunch of world-class athletes and you can put them together in a team and the common saying is that okay, well if the team isn’t coordinated then those athletes aren’t going to perform well together. But the reverse is also true, which is that if you don’t motivate those individual athletes to contribute to the team in a meaningful way and to feel comfortable, psychologically safe, feel like their aspirations and so on are taken care of, then they’re not going to have that bipartisan relationship, they’re not going to contribute to the team.

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