Is it time to rethink agile?


Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School

United Kingdom

The world continues to defy our best laid plans, schemes and designs. The dream of creating agile, responsive, nimble and adaptive enterprises capable of sensing and responding to emerging challenges, discontinuous change, turbulent shocks, environmental jolts, unexpected vulnerabilities and emergent opportunities is well documented (see for example, Levinthal & March, 1981; Meyer 1982; Daft & Lengel, 1983; Daft & Weick, 1984; Haeckel 1999). Leaders have therefore long sought improved methods and approaches for resetting management and reshaping organisations. Many now maintain that concepts such as agile project management and business agility offer just such capability. In an earlier article (Dalcher, 2021a) we explored the mindsets needed for scaling experimentation and supporting innovation at a sustained level ranging all the way from small-scale change to a business-wide perspective. This month, we revisit the origin and source of agile thinking in order to question its enduring relevance and the way that it has been adopted and embraced. Moreover, the reflection inevitably looks to re-evaluate if agile was our missed chance to recalibrate our modes of working, doing and being adaptive.

In the beginning: The agile manifesto?

The Agile Manifesto, often referred to as the source of everything agile, was formulated in February 2001 when a group of 17 leading software developers assembled at US retreat and formulated a powerful statement of intent.  A lot has changed since the release of that declaration. Agile approaches have been adopted, embedded and deployed in many sectors, areas and domains, including project management; however, the field remains contested and ambiguous with many different and competing flavours, approaches and interpretations. So, with agile at 21 it seems apt to pause and reflect on whether agile has come of age (as claimed by Denning 2018), and consider if we are entering the dawn of the much-heralded new age of agile, or witnessing an inevitable decline of an overly hyped trend (Cram & Newell 2016).

Agile comes in an ever-growing range and number of different flavours, all adhering to the initial articulation of agile as the function and the direct result of the manifesto. Many books, articles and papers have been dedicated to exploring agile ways of working. Indeed,

when people describe what agile means, for example in published sources or available courses, they inevitably start with the agile manifesto. The manifesto lays the foundation for agile thinking and working by introducing what is referred to as the values of agile software development through four comparative statements summarising the main preferences and important concerns. This is followed by the articulation of the 12 key principles which embed and embody the essence of agile software development.

After more than two decades, this statement of intent remains unaltered, marking a contextual departure point in the agile chronicles. It has also been translated into more than 60 languages. The manifesto captures a snapshot of a moment, summarising an important conversation and agreement reached by that particular group on that one occasion. More than 20,000 individuals had signed the declaration by July 2016, at the point when the document was sealed and finalised as a historical manuscript, and a marker in time (compared by some of the original attendees to the status of the US Declaration of Independence).

The power of words

Words can be used to create, destroy, sustain and kill. Words enable a vision to become a reality, turning a textual description into a concept that can be distributed across a community and developed jointly. They play an important part in facilitating, sharing and collaboration, as well as in selling and marketing. Indeed, Weil (1962/2020) notes the role of manipulation through words by the powerful as a way of satisfying needs related to order, equality, liberty and truth. Indeed, Wilson (2006) examines how Abraham Lincoln used the power of words to build his political career; revolutionise public opinion on critical issues such as civil liberties and the emancipation of slaves; and, attempt to keep the country united during the US Civil War, whilst Martin Gilbert (2012), Churchill’s official biographer, explores how Churchill used words to argue for moral causes, advocate action and report on his feelings, struggles and achievements.


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Routledge publishers.  Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Routledge series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ. 

How to cite this paper: Dalcher, D. (2021). Is it time to rethink agile? Advances in Project Management Series, PM World Journal, Volume XI, Issue XII, December. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/pmwj124-Dec2022-Dalcher-is-it-time-to-rethink-agile.pdf

About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Author, Professor, Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School, UK


Darren Dalcher, Ph.D., HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI, SMIEEE, SFHEA, MINCOSE is Professor in Strategic Project Management at Lancaster University, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has written over 300 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Software: Evolution and Process, a leading international software engineering journal. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series Fundamentals of Project Management.  Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the British Academy of Management and the International Council on Systems Engineering. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He sits on numerous senior research and professional boards, including The PMI Academic Insight Team, the CMI Academic Council and the APM Group Ethics and Standards Governance Board as well as the British Library Management Book of the Year Panel.  He is the Academic Advisor, author and co-Editor of the highly influential 7th edition of the APM Body of Knowledge. Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal. He can be contacted at d.dalcher@lancaster.ac.uk.

To view other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/