Future of Agile – The Manifesto for Sustainable Agile for new normal

COVID-19 is proving to be a turning point in history. The changes introduced by this crisis are extraordinary and fundamentally reshaping our beliefs and behaviours. The immediate short term measures, policies and direct experiences are already changing how we work, including greater emphasis on remote working, digital collaboration, workplace distancing, and support for temporary workers for example.

In last two decades, we’ve witnessed multiple industry trends – globalisation, rise of start-up ecosystem and technology innovations etc. that transformed ways of life and profoundly shifted business strategies across the industries. We’ve also experienced various methods and frameworks such as Lean, XP, Agile etc. that has helped companies optimise, expedite and transform business outcomes across the industries.

The global growth story had been underpinned by capitalism at the forefront with little or no consideration towards sustainability or without truly understanding the impact on the natural ecosystem. When majority of organization goals are focused solely on driving revenue (or profits or margins), market share or growth with an insatiable appetite to go faster, the toolbox for success can only mirror the language of speed, cost and low (or no) failure. The long term impact on mankind is not everyone’s worry if you’re chasing the year on year growth.

It’s not about philanthropy, it’s about renewing our value-system to demonstrate how uniquely we can build a long-term sustainable growth model by doing the right thing for our societies and our people.

It’s a new value-system

Now more than ever, business and government have a crucial role to play in protecting people’s health, bolstering the economy, and developing both practical solutions and game-changing innovations that will shape the recovery and beyond. The need for agility has never been greater. Over the long term, though, we know that the delivery of value to shareholders, employees, and society requires growth. And growth requires innovation and resilience as key ingredients. It’s imperative for everyone to balance the immediate measures and growth orientation with sustainable agility.

The Manifesto for Sustainable Agile

Over the last 10 years of my career studying the sustainable business models, one key differentiator I found between sustainable vs non-sustainable models is the “value-system” that drives every function of the organization. That provided the much needed foundation for my thinking around the manifesto for sustainable agile.

[Update 28 Jun 2020] Organisations on their transformation journeys tend to ignore the ‘sustainable’ aspects of the transformation. When we define an end date for a transformation, we move away from the mindset of continuous improvement. Many a times we hear stories of how an organisation started and transformed certain areas of the company but they couldn’t sustain the transformation. Common challenges such as change in leadership, change in strategic direction or increase in people transition / turn-over usually result in reset of the transformation agenda. Once an organisation returns to their old ways of working, the feeling of failure sticks for long time and another attempt at transformation needs a lot more will & intent. For leaders, it is important to understand the need to inculcate core values of sustainable agility as their default modus of operandi.

In my view, the new manifesto is an extension to the Agile Manifesto and it can be the guiding light for individuals, teams, leaders and enterprises to navigate these immediate turbulent times and discover a new normal, a better world and a better earth in a sustainable manner.

Manifesto for Sustainable Agile

The four core values of Manifesto for Sustainable Agile are:

  1. Collocated minds Over Collocated People

    Technology has helped us prove that remote work at such a massive scale is possible. Studies have long proven collocated teams are better at delivery outcomes and gain alignment quickly. The effect of current situation will fundamentally shift how office spaces & collocation is perceived by individuals and leaders.
    In post COVID-19 era and beyond, remote working may take a front seat giving people commute-free lifestyle combined with technology innovations. We are all learning and experience through a global movement that it is more important to have the power of minds, ideas and thoughts together and collocated through digital mediums and conferencing innovations etc. Physical collocation may prove not be an essential aspect for new normal where everyone will master the art of remote working.

    [Update 5/06/2020]:
    In last few weeks, we have seen some amazing examples of how companies & institutions have responded quickly towards ensure a location-agnostic approach to various parts of the work and life. Some examples are as below:

    1. In Philippines Virtual Courts were launched throughout the country
    2. In Maldives, lawmakers continue to work from Virtual Parliaments
    3. From Chalkboard to Virtual Classrooms throughout various countries
    4. TCS started Remote Internship and plans to have 75% of its work-force working from home by 2025
    5. The article from Business.Com around Remote Work Trends After Covid-19 summarises efforts across various other industries.
    6. Organisations have started to re-imagine their employee journey, customer journey and overall work experience to suit the new normal.
    7. The list goes on….

  2. Collective Outcomes Over Individual Outputs

    This CORE value represents multiple aspects.

    The first aspect is related to individual productivity. The urge to measure individual productivity has always been of keen interest for people who are more focused on ROI over Impact. It has been a topic of debate over years in agile community that rather than measuring outputs or utilisation, one should measure outcomes. In my experience, outputs/utilisation measured in absolute number of hours or any time unit may have a NO direct relation to intellectual outcomes. A higher utilisation may also yield depreciation in form of burn-outs or partial failures due to excessive load/stress on individuals. 

    When we focus on collective outcomes, it drives collaboration, cooperation and team work. Successful organisations will find it a continuous endeavour and a critical mandate to work as a team (not individuals), leveraging collective strengths to deliver collective outcomes.

    [Update 5/06/2020]:
    Majority of leaders are still focused on remote worker productivity, there are many reports of remote worker productivity which was also a concern prior to Covid-19 and covered as part of State of Remote Work 2020 report. It is time we adopt a collective outcome driven approach towards productivity. As a leader enabling remote work is one part, making it sustainable needs more than productivity measures.

    [Update 28 Jun 2020] The second aspect is related to how departmental conflicts and individual KPIs hinder high performance and greater outcomes for organisations. To achieve truly sustainable outcomes, the feeling on “ONE” needs to be cultivated and nurtured throughout the employee journey.

    The third aspect is related to how an organisation works with vendors and partners. Creating an ecosystem of trust and joint ownership through out the value chain is essential for sustainable outcomes.

  3. Speed to Value Over Speed to Market

    In these times of stress, going faster isn’t the universal answer. Leaders must focus on anticipation and responsiveness along with the perceived opportunity value. Defining value is hard – leaders should carefully define components that make up the value. The components that create value would be different for different companies ranging from competitiveness, risk reduction, compliance or sustainability or other business drivers. When leaders define & manage priorities in the new era, they also need to consider greater good of society over traditional capitalist mindset.

    [Update 5/06/2020]:
    I received few questions and emails around the Speed to Value part. I found a golden nugget from Bill George (Harvard Business School Professor), explaining the new purpose behind “Creating Shared Value” aspects of capitalism. It is great to see how the new purpose it shifting towards becoming more inclusive for all different stakeholder (employees, customers, suppliers, communities and shareholders).

    [Update 28 Jun 2020] – In last few weeks through multiple discussions it became clear that Sustainable agility requires you to look beyond traditional definition of “business value” and shift your focus to your true “purpose”. If the purpose limited to profitability without truly caring about people and society, you’re not creating value for everyone. Some examples we saw in last few weeks in this regards:

    1) Amul’s approach to ensure farmers are well taken care during the lockdown


    2) Grab’s approach to help their departing people with a talent directory: https://grab.careers/talent-directory/

    3) DBS bank’s purpose-driven appraoch to taking care of customers and employees https://go.dbs.com/2NyPpeM 

    And so on…

  4. Empathy and Trust Over Command and Control

    During the current crisis and in the post-crisis era, empathy and trust would define success of leaders. Without empathy, there is no trust which directly impacts working relationships. At individual level, everyone is going through different set of challenges. The layoffs, lock-down and health worries are showing an uprising trend. Leaders who continue to use authority and command to push people in these circumstances may lose respect. A truly nimble mindset which encourages people to be at their best while balancing their essential needs is really critical for now & beyond. A sustainable work culture, driven deeply by empathy and trust would promote unconditional loyalty.

    [Update 5/06/2020]:
    ‘Empathy and trust’ is one the most popular topics in management and leadership circles during this time. Everyone has a part to play, throughout the journey. It’s not a one-off action.
    Some of the resources, I found useful are listed here:
    1. Remote Onboarding and Working with Remote Customers
    2. Hiring a fully remote team
    3. Steps to support remote members
    4. Emotional Intelligence in Remote Environment

    5. Susan David, Ph.D.’s “Emotional Pyramid of Needs”

Why we need another Manifesto?

The Agile Manifesto (2001) at the time of writing had the primary focus to find better ways of developing software. Over the years, agile adoption has continued to expand not only within IT but also beyond IT in different organisational functions such as HR, Finance, Marketing and so on. The values and principles of agile remains timeless. However, the application of these values and principles need to be revisited.

We’re experiencing an unprecedented reality. As companies and leaders go through discovering and defining the new normal, we need a nimble yet resilient mindset to support different ways of working for everyone – be it software development , business operations or mission critical service operations. That’s the promise of the new manifesto.

Universal Applicability

The manifesto for Sustainable Agile brings inclusiveness for everyone in the new normal. It’s application is not limited to any particular domain, function, industry or team or business model. These core values can be universally applied to any and all of the below compositions:

  1. Domains of Work
  2. Types of Team Compositions
  3. Industries
  4. Technology Functions
  5. Business Functions
  6. Business Models
  7. Individuals
Universal Application of Sustainable Agile
Universal Application of Sustainable Agile


Contribute to the Manifesto – For the Community, By the Community

I believe the best way to get the best possible version of anything is through a series of “inspect and adapt” cycles based on feedback form community at large. As a true believer of collective outcome over individual utilisation, I would like to capture insights and best practices from the global community so that the manifesto can become a living document.

To that end, the Manifesto for Sustainable Agile is open source and is released under the CC4-BY-SA license.

This is a “FOR THE COMMUNITY, BY THE COMMUNITY” movement. With the power of community, I am sure we can co-create the future of agile and future of the world sustainably.

Join the Sustainable Agile Community Today! https://sustainable-agile.tribe.so/

Please also comment and reach out to me directly via email or twitter to provide your inputs. Let us make the new era a collaborative endeavour.

A black & white poster for the manifesto can be found here.


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