So I went along to a new event yesterday. Apparently the Agile community have taken a bold new step and finally written a new manifesto to address agility outside of software development. Essentially this could be the most significant thing to occur in the history of the workplace since Frederick Taylor invented Scientific Management. (One could perhaps consider the original Agile Manifesto if the scope wasn’t restricted to software development). After years of false starts and dead ends from Deming to Stoos, could this finally be the beginning of the end of command & control in the workplace?
The event I attended yesterday was called Darmstadt SPIN, a forum and network for “Vordenker” (which Leo translates as mastermind, mentor or prophet). They meet regularly to discuss various topics. Yesterday was my first time there so I don’t know what the usual topics are or what sort of people attend. There were actually a lot of newbies like me there yesterday.
We started off with an introduction to the new Agile Business Thinking Manifesto. I tried to find an english version but couldn’t, so here is a lazy Google translation of it:
Manifesto for Business in a New Century
We develop better ways organisations to lead by doing it yourself and help others to do the same. Thus we have learned to appreciate the following values:
We value personal responsibility and self-organisation
more than hierarchical control.
We believe that personal responsibility, self-organisation and agile teamwork enable organisations to deliver higher performance. As a result, employees find more meaning in their work.
We appreciate interdisciplinary and efficient team structures
more than labor.
We believe that interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation capacity and allows more employees bring their personal strengths.
We appreciate growing organisational knowledge
More than individual expertise.
We believe that collective learning and action strengthens the organisational success and employee capable of personal development.
We value partnership
more than formal customer-supplier relationships.
We believe that a partnership creates added value for customers and employees to connect to the customer’s wishes.
We value responsiveness and agility
more than stability and continuity.
We believe that an agile and responsive organisation better use of opportunities in the market and its employees empowered to change themselves and their businesses.
We are convinced that the above values of a powerful organisation and employee satisfaction are important.
Why values in a manifesto? Agile enterprise management is to control and align a set of interconnected values that organise the behaviour and culture of organisations and the individuals in them.
I hope it is ok to post a translation here like this. I didn’t see any copyright or license information, so just let me know if it should be taken down. One bit I didn’t past in was, due to formatting, this note:
All values in this set are important to us. We estimate the values in the first row as more important than those in the second line.
(This applies to all 5 pairs of values)
They actually indicate that e.g. “hierarchical control” is important.
The only other thing on the page is a link to the Xing group, where we can get a clue as to who is behind this manifesto (two consulting companies) and how old it might be (the Xing group was created in April 2011).
When i read this manifesto I am reminded of a critique I once heard of the software craftsmanship manifesto. To me a manifesto should send tingles up one’s spine and make one’s blood curl. They should passionately and almost violently challenge the status quo, and present a serious threat to our fundamental beliefs. My reaction to this manifesto is a little different. To me it reads more like a cautious compromise between the status quo and common sense. Where is the rage? Where is the earnest plea? Where is sense that someone is putting it all on the line for the sake of a better future? I find it decidedly not emotionally compelling.
And hierarchical control is still important? Cmon! In the age of betacodex, rightshifting and Stoos, this reads exactly like what it is. An advertisement for German consultants that don’t want to appear too radical so they can still peddle their wares to senior management mostly concerned with preserving their place in the analytic machines they think they drive.
Anyway, back to the event. After being introduced to the manifesto we heard a case study that we were then to use as a basis for discussion on how to apply this manifesto to the problems mentioned in the case study. I had expected to hear about an actual case of organisational change or at least an attempt to “agilize” something not related to software development. Unfortunately the case study was about a software development project that used Scrum for a year or so before giving up on it. There was very little about the business or organisational context. As a result, the discussions sounded exactly like every other discussion about agile software development over the last decade. Most people were focussed on the idea that the goal was for this single team to do Scrum properly, all the suggestions were too focussed on the team and anchored in the language of software development and Scrum. To really get a feel for how this manifesto could be relevant for actual business thinking, they should have focussed on a case study that had nothing to do with software development, and focussed more on the business and organisational issues.
I found it frustrating. Also the discussions felt a lot like ineffective meetings at work, where everyone knows they will only get a sentence in before getting interrupted so everyone is rushing, complicated ideas cannot be introduced, and the loudest voices dominate. It would have been a lot more productive in written form on twitter or via mailing list.
I did note that the Darmstadt SPIN will be meeting again in September, and that Agile Business Thinking will be on the agenda again as it has been selected as their topic of the year. I thought the Stoos community really has to get involved as they seem a few steps ahead. Then I noticed that Darmstadt SPIN itself is also organised and sponsored by the same two consulting companies that are as far as I know, behind the manifesto. It would make sesne to me for everyone with goals in this area to work tgether a bit, and see what others are doing, rather than reinventing their own ecosystems to address the issues alone. (A quick glance at some of the names associated with the manifesto indicates mostly people who I have not yet seen engaging with the wider community on the issue).
Anyway, what are your thoughts? Have we finally produced an artefact that can guide us towards a noble future of business agility? Or is this just another attempt, and a weak one at that, for agile software development consultants to add something to their portfolio? Do you have a favourite collection of values or principles that attempt to achieve a similar goal, yet do provoke an emotional response?