A complete guide to the Agile Manifesto

Two co-workers review the complete guide to the Agile Manifesto.

You’ve probably heard of Agile project management as a popular alternative to the previous waterfall methodology. You might be using Agile in your work right now. However, many professionals are unaware of the nuances and history of Agile — including the Agile Manifesto that started this work movement.

The Agile Manifesto established the values and principles of the agile methodology for software development. In this article, you’ll learn how the Agile Manifesto came to be, its components, and how teams can adopt Agile in their organizations.

This post will explore the following subjects:

What is the Agile Manifesto?

The Agile Manifesto for Software Development declared a unifying philosophy for frameworks like Scrum, Extreme Programming, and Feature Driven Development (FDD). The Agile Manifesto significantly departed from the waterfall-style project management approaches that were widely used before that time.

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development states:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.

Through this work, we have come to value:

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Agile solutions come about as self-organizing, cross-functional Agile teams employ the appropriate practices for their context. But that doesn’t mean they operate without managers.

Managers are still needed to:

History of the Agile Manifesto

The Agile Manifesto came to be as software developers craved better and more responsive ways to work. Before the Manifesto, developers mixed old and new ideas about Agile development in an effort to find the best way to approach their work.

In 2001 in Snowbird, Utah, 17 people gathered to discuss the future of software development. They included proponents of Extreme Programming, Scrum, Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), Adaptive Software Development, Crystal, FDD, and Pragmatic Programming, to create an alternative to “documentation-driven, heavyweight software development processes.”

Their different methodologies focused on:

During the Agile Manifesto meeting, the participants looked for commonalities in existing approaches and discarded the things they couldn’t agree on. The participants then codified the remaining points in the Agile Manifesto — providing a set of value statements and coming up with the term “Agile software development.”

The Agile Alliance was formed in late 2001 as a place for software developers to explore and share their ideas and experiences. Development teams were the first to use Agile methodology but it has since been adopted by other teams — particularly those who execute projects that don’t have a clear scope and requirements at the outset.

As Agile became more widely adopted, an ecosystem developed that included the people doing Agile software development and others who helped them via consulting, training, frameworks, and tools.

The Agile Manifesto established the values and principles of the Agile methodology for software development.

The four values of Agile

The four Agile Manifesto values are:

1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

It’s people who drive the development process and respond to business needs on the fly, so they take precedence over processes and tools. If tools drive development, the team becomes less responsive and unable to meet customer needs.

2. Working software over comprehensive documentation

The Agile Manifesto deemphasizes the development of process documentation, which historically took a vast amount of time and often bogged down the team. By avoiding unimportant minutiae, Agile shifts the team’s focus from the process itself to the results of the process — actual working software.

3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

With traditional project management methods customers negotiate the product requirements in great detail before any work starts — and they’re typically involved only at the beginning and end. In Agile, the customer becomes an important collaborator throughout the development process, ensuring their input is incorporated and the result meets their needs along the way.

4. Responding to change over following a plan

Because ongoing adaptation isn’t built into the traditional software development process, change is an expensive headache. Agile embraces change by focusing on releasing a minimum viable product that can be continuously evaluated and adjusted.

Agile embraces change by focusing on releasing a minimum viable product that can be evaluated and adjusted.

The 12 Agile Manifesto principles

In addition to the four values, the Agile Manifesto articulates 12 principles that help explain what those values look like in action and how you can be sure you’re using an Agile philosophy.

  1. Make it your highest priority to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. Customers don’t want to wait long stretches of time between releases. Instead of keeping customers in the dark, it’s best to engage them early and often with functional software. Send frequent working versions of the product in small increments, gather feedback, and change as needed to improve performance.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage. Don’t let feature request changes derail your progress — use change to your advantage. Agile breaks large updates into smaller, achievable tasks that are then divided among the team. That not only allows you to embrace change, but it also prevents bottlenecks.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for a shorter timescale. Delivering software on a regular timeline allows you to iterate more quickly — and continually improve your project. Because Agile teams work in sprints, it’s much easier to deliver working software regularly.
  4. Keep business people and developers working together daily throughout the project. Leaders need to understand what their teams are working on to keep business objectives aligned with development. Agile breaks down the silos that traditionally form between business leaders and developers.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals by giving them the environment and support they need. Trust them to get the job done. An Agile project manager’s main job is to motivate the team. They should create an environment where team members can share their opinions freely and confidently because that’s the best way to stay motivated and improve project quality.
  6. Use face-to-face conversations to convey information within a development team. Communication is a big part of Agile methodology. Communicating via email and instant messages is tempting, but Agile encourages face-to-face collaboration because it’s more effective and efficient. For example, if your team is remote, it’s best to chat over a video call instead of email.
  7. Measure success by how well the software works. The most important question for Agile teams is, “Does it work?” Function matters over anything else.
  8. Promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely. An Agile team moves fast, but their pace shouldn’t cause burnout. They should have a consistent pace where the team can repeatedly deliver software without exhaustion.
  9. Pay continuous attention to technical excellence, and use good design to enhance agility. Teams should have varied skillsets to improve the customer experience. In an Agile model, your team must improve their skills over time to ensure you keep up with customer requirements.
  10. Keep it simple. Maximize the amount of work not done. Don’t overdevelop a solution. Just focus on the task at hand to create a solution for the current problem.
  11. Produce the best architectures, requirements, and designs with self-organizing teams. A single project manager shouldn’t rule over Agile team members. The team should have the power to make a decision together as a group.
  12. Reflect at regular intervals on how to become more effective and adjust team behavior accordingly. Iteration is a big part of the Agile Manifesto. It’s important to reflect on your processes, skills, and techniques as a group to create even better future projects.
According to Zippia, at least 71% of companies are using at least some aspects of Agile in their principal business functions.

The relevance of Agile

Since the signing of the Agile Manifesto, the widely adopted product development approach has seen many successes. It’s given rise to other scaled Agile development processes — such as the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) — which help move Agile out of the software development arena and into other teams within the enterprise.

According to Zippia, at least 71% of companies are using at least some aspects of Agile in their principal business functions:

While Agile revolutionized productivity as we know it, the process was created well over 20 years ago. Some may wonder if Agile is still relevant to how software development teams operate today.

Yes, Agile is still relevant, but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to Agile methodology. Agile is a valuable resource that equips your team with a framework to do its best work. It’s about the mentality you bring to work — not dogmatic, prescriptive management.

You can’t impose Agile without giving teams autonomy. It isn’t a perfect system for all departments, and you should never consider Agile as the antidote to productivity or quality issues. At the end of the day, Agile is valuable, but it’s essential to understand that its application requires nuance and customization to your context.

Get started with Agile today

The Agile Manifesto changed software development as we know it. While it certainly isn’t a new methodology, Agile is still as relevant today as it was back in 2001. However, businesses need to customize their approach to work for their unique situation to get the most value out of an Agile methodology.

To get started, you should consider:

  1. Agile teams. Compile a list of your Agile team members to create truly cross-functional work groups.
  2. Agile methodology. Decide between Scrum or Kanban to kick off your team.
  3. Sprint cycles. If you’re using Scrum, determine the length of time your team will complete an iteration.
  4. Team capacity. How much work can your team realistically complete during a sprint?

Ready to try Agile in your business? Learn how Agile can benefit your development team.

You don’t have to start from scratch, either — Adobe is here to help. Adobe Workfront is work management software that helps teams collaborate on projects to deliver the best results. It supports your team’s Agile efforts by integrating people, data, processes, and technology across an organization.

Take a product tour now or watch an overview video to get started.