Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Agile for Non-Software Work

Not long after I encountered the Agile Manifesto, it struck me that the Values and Principles could be applied to work other than software development. I’ve encountered some resistance to that view as people feel it was software development experience which resulted in the Manifesto and that the validity of its Values and Principles is based on their effectiveness for software.Now going from the Manifesto to actual practices and techniques outside of software development would be, I agree, a harder next step. The Manifesto was preceded by software development methods that had already validated a number of practices. (It is true that not long after the Manifesto was created, people experienced in project management came together to create a Declaration of Interdependence which sought to extend the Manifesto’s concepts into a broader project management context not limited to software. However, many of these people were associated with the Agile community and had some existing software ties.)

What if we take the statement of the Values and Principles and substitute “product” for software, understanding that “product” could also include “service”? We would get one change in the Values and just a few more in the Principles. One Principle would need a bit more tweeking to remove the software-like sound: “The best results and product artifacts emerge from self-organizing teams.”

I believe the words “development” and “developer” could be left as is since one does develop a product or service. But if these terms grate on you, I’m sure they could be reasonably changed.
The point is, though, that there is nothing in the modified Values or Principles which suggests they can not apply perfectly outside of a software context. I have done this not to belabor the obvious when one makes a few simply word substitutions, but to make a larger point that I’m sure others have noticed.

Perhaps the next major growth in agile adoption could be to more broadly incorporate non-software organizations in working with the agile community as well as encourage companies where agile exists in their IT work to move application of the Values and Principle out of their IT organizations and into other areas of their businesses? In any Agile conferences, workshops and seminars, it is clear that many sessions have to do with matters that go beyond IT-only concerns. There are many talks about the social/cultural aspects of agile adoption. In fact, most of the well-known people in the Agile community talk about such matters more than technical practices. Look at the session titles and descriptions for the upcoming Agile 2009 conference for people with highly recognizable names in the Agile community.

I think more overt recognition of this might allow for an interesting (re)structuring of future Agile related events. What would be needed is for practices and techniques (and tools) not based on software development to be discussed at such events. (There has been recent growth of discussion around Lean/Kanban and Agile practices. However, this is more a matter of bringing non-software-specific practices and tools into the software context, I believe.)

I think this could be helpful in Agile’s growth since some adoption efforts seem to “stall” in IT, even if somewhat successful, because translation to areas outside of IT is not always direct and those areas, understandably, don’t see how the technical practices fit. Other parts of an organization need translation for, and practices related to, their own domains, though such practices, especially at the outset, would be expected to be informed by existing software-based ones.

It would be interesting to hear from people who have experience applying agile concepts to non-IT parts of a company and/or completely non-software domains. (Indeed, I just saw that Dean Leffingwell has written a very nice piece about this exact topic, using the word "solutions" where I used "product" above:

1 comment:

  1. Hi Scott,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your post. As part of Rally Software's marketing team, I have seen the benefits of Agile extend far beyond the IT organization. Last week, I wrote this post on the topic:

    Let's encourage others in the community to continue the conversation.

    Jessica Kahn
    Rally Software