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In this post, we will be looking at two “new” concepts that evolves the idea of business agility. Modern Agility and Heart of Agile. The aim of these two concepts (I’ll refrain from calling them frameworks as their creators specifically state that they are not frameworks), is to provide a more simplified approach to implementing agility within teams, departments, and companies. Modern Agile and Heart of Agile do not just apply to software development. They are more like guardrails to use in any aspect of a company ensuring positive changes and direction are happening.

Underlying Assumptions

Here are the main arguments as to why we need to consider these simplified agile concepts. First, the agile industry has become more complex and saturated with equally complex solutions. In many instances, the solutions implemented as they are now are not actually making anything better. Additionally, these solutions are actually not in line with the original concepts of the Agile Manifesto.

Second, technology has evolved where some of the solutions may not make sense anymore. For example, with the implementation of various continuous delivery or continuous integration tools (CI/CD), some of the agile frameworks available may not make sense anymore. If you can instantly deploy working code or solutions to your users, why would you want to wait until a sprint is over? In that sense, with CI/CD in place, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the concepts in the agile manifesto and see if things still make sense. Alistair Cockburn, one of the original collaborators on the Agile Manifesto and the creator of Heart of Agile, makes this key assertion.

Main objectives from modern foundations

In any case, the point of Modern Agile and Heart of Agile is to expand the scope of agile principles to all companies, not just the ones that do software development. Additionally, these two modern foundations serve as guidelines for companies, departments, and teams to choose how best to work within the context of business agility. One foundation, Modern Agile, is an update to the Agile Manifesto, while the other, Heart of Agile, is simplifies the manifesto.

The final objective of these two foundations is to propel people into a higher level of work. Going back to the Shu Ha Ri (you can find the details of it here) companies are stuck doing the same thing without improving or incrementally improving their process. They are stuck in the Shu phase of learning. These modern agile foundations help people break into the Ha and Ri phases by giving them guidelines for evaluation. Thus, team implementing a scrum framework would do well to collect other techniques and adjust to further increase their quality and value delivered. Modern Agile and Heart of Agile are ways to conduct that retrospective and learning. With additional learning comes additional progression. That progression is what moves a team from Shu to Ha or Ha to Ri.

Quick overview of modern foundations

Below are brief overviews of Modern Agile and Heart of Agile respectively. If you want to learn more about each of the principles that they cover, I encourage you to follow the links to the keynotes explaining each.

Modern Agile

Modern Agile, created by Joshua Kerievsky, CEO of Industrial Logic, is a framework-free set of values. It encourages people to follow their own approaches under four key values:

  1. Making People Awesome
  2. Make Safety a Prerequisite
  3. Experiment and Learn Rapidly
  4. Deliver Value Continuously

The purpose of Modern Agile is to expand the scope of the original Agile Manifesto to make it apply to an entire company (rather than the original scope of software development). Outside of these four principles, modern agile doesn’t prescribe a specific process or methodology to follow. Teams, departments, and companies are free to find their own way of doing things using these four principles as their guideposts.

Heart of Agile

The heart of agile, like Modern Agile, operates on four principles:

  1. Collaborate
  2. Deliver
  3. Reflect
  4. Improve

Alistair Cockburn teaches that the Heart of Agile principles improve the overall work of a company using basic agile principles. And, like Modern Agile applies to various areas and domains, not just software development. This concept, as outlined by Alistair in his speech here, are meant to be overlaid in existing frameworks and methodologies.

Lessons Learned — Simplicity Matters

Now, both of these concepts originate from the same issue: the over-saturation of agile frameworks and coaching that aren’t delivering results. Business agility has become over-hyped, over-sold, and stagnate. Thus, as a result, you see many people disenfranchised with any type of agile framework or change. Modern Agile and Heart of Agile is a definitive pull to basic principles.

To me, these concepts seem to be trying to do the same thing: expand the thinking and process of teams and companies by providing a clear cultural framework for exploration. Both offer simple ways to apply agility principles to a broader context. I think they both succeed in meeting their overall objective of bringing agile principles to various companies and industries outside of the software development space.

Choosing between the two

In terms of approach, I’m more inclined to follow the Modern Agile foundation of assessing business agility. Unlike Heart of Agile, where one-word phrases describe activities, Modern Agile advocates for the purpose of doing something. Rather than collaborate, you are focusing on making people awesome (of which collaboration would be one of the tools to accomplish this). The other critique is that Heart of Agile doesn’t fix the problem by which it was created – eliminating complexity. Heart of Agile includes its own certification, trainers, and niche community. It is essentially a prerequisite before implementing any of the agile frameworks. Modern Agile, on the other hand, doesn’t do any of that. Rather it is an open-source set of information that anyone can use to evaluate and improve business agility.

However, both foundations were created with the right mindset: offering an improvement in how things are done to make work and lives better. I find it ironic that for an industry dedicated to continuous improvement, it took us a couple of decades to look back on how things started and to offer subsequent improvements.

If you found this helpful, please share with your colleagues, friends, boss, etc. Also, feel free to start reading my Agile Laws series here.

Thanks for reading!

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David Bjarnson

David is an agile practitioner for 6 years in various capacities working specifically on software development for a number of different companies. David has his CSM, CSPO, CSP-PO, CSP-SM, and PMI-ACP certifications.

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