Becoming agile

Agile, through the storms

The Agile Man-ifesto

I have observed recently that of the signatories of the Agile Manifesto, 17 are men, and the rest are women. This made me think about the relevance of the manifesto, in terms of the intellectual, emotional, and cultural diversity that led to its creation.

I searched if someone else has published articles or works on this interesting fact, that all the signatories are male, and did not find anything about it. I did find, however, and the article Empower Gender Diversity with Agile Software Development by Prof. Orit Hazzan The paper shows that teams with mixed genders present better communication skills and better relationships. Furthermore, gender diversity in teams and in pairs resulted in members significantly reporting on more collaborative work. Did anyone mention Individuals and Interactions?

The Agile Manifesto source:

The paper refers to additional work, and lays ground for future empirical work on the contribution of gender diversity on trust within teams, enhancing cross-functional teamwork and other aspects. This all suggests that encouraging women leadership and involving women in development teams enhances organizations’ ability to produce more and better quality software for their customers.

This got me intrigued. I browsed renowned agile books written be women: Johanna Rothman, Esther Derby, Diana Larsen, Lyssa Adkins – all books I found were published during or after 2001! (Admittedly this was not an extensive research only browsing in online bookshops)

Even the references in Prof. Hazzan’s article above – all referenced papers by herself were published after 2001.

I then contacted Prof. Hazzan and asked her if she has noticed this, and whether she knows of work done in this respect.

The answer came quickly:

Thanks, Ilan, for your mail.

I am aware of this phenomenon.

Additional resource is the following one:

If additional information is needed, please let me know.


Naturally, I read the article with fascination, expecting to find information on the lack of women in the manifesto. I didn’t. I found something more interesting.

In this work, Prof. Hazzan et al interviewed most of the signatories of the manifesto, collecting information on the background and the events that led to its formation.

It is commonly versed that the Agile Manifesto was created around a cultural atmosphere that manifested in poor results of software projects. This work asserts that the reasons for the famous meetings at the Snowbird ski resort stemmed from technical aspects: OOPSLA, PloP, design patterns – in general writing better code, and ending a decade of work in various forums.

It also uncovers some interesting facts about this gathering:

  • Participants generally had similar lines in their family backgrounds: “homes in which the fathers were liberal professionals and the mothers were usually housewives, who had a fondness for reading, and other art- or culture-related hobbies. Most of the Originators had moved many times during their childhood and lived in several places; thus, they had to cope with changes from earlier stages of their life.”
  • The shift from technical to cultural aspects: “…while the Originators were driven by technological forces … and therefore addressed the Agile Manifesto mainly from a technological perspective, the software industry was captured by the cultural message … that fitted the industry’s needs at that time. We should recall that the Agile Manifesto was published just after several meaningful events had taken place in the software industry – the Millennium bug, the hi-tech bubble burst in 2001 and the dissatisfied customers

Whatever the reasons, it seems that the Agile Manifesto has been a turning point in bringing women leadership into the software and high-tech industry, doing a great service for the phenomenon of increasing Gender Diversity.

This is seen not only in the organizational aspect, but also in the wider sense of women leadership – in an increasing number of world renowned experts, making this industry a better and more agreeable place to work in.

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5 thoughts on “The Agile Man-ifesto

  1. Ilan, why don’t you just say: “.. of the signatories of the Agile Manifesto, 17 are men, and there were no women (present). ” ?

    • In the opening paragraph I wanted the reader to identify with my curiosity. As I went through the process of reviewing the 17 names, and double checking maybe I have missed someone, I wanted the reader (at least some) to be in the same emotional state.
      In the second paragraph I reveal the fact that all 17 are male, for those who are not very familiar with the manifesto, and those who don’t wish to explore for themselves.
      As for the English standards, sadly, as good as I want to believe my command of English is, it is not my mother tongue. I do tend to make grammar and occasional spelling mistakes. I am making some small improvements with time, but I have to realise my limits also.
      Thank you for highlighting this.

      • pjameijs on said:

        Ilan, Thank you for your explanation. I guessed it could be something like you now said. Anyway, you have reached your goal with me, because I have checked at the Manifesto. Nice issue you have raised.

  2. Jon Jay Obermark on said:

    As a very gender-focussed gay guy who has been involved in purposely agile processes since well before the manifesto (ca 1994), I have always thought that agile practices worked mainly as an anodyne to the interference the male role makes in the production process. Your observations are a welcome additional insight on this.

    By choosing Agility as a metaphor, we are openly devaluing strength and accountability as sources of reliability. Using accountability to harness and maximize strength is kind of the basic motive of patriarchal governance, as far as I can tell. So there you go. Moving to something that is less like the way Napoleonic armies worked is probably going to make any domain more friendly to women.

    At the same time, it raises more interesting social questions. Do you think ‘nerds’ have a different take on the values of masculinity, or that the sheer preponderance of men here led to having the problem bring itself to a head?

    • This is a most welcome comment, Jon.

      I am still to be convinced on the ‘nerds’ thing.
      I meet organisations with female leadership who behave very masculine in terms of gender. And conversely, I meet male leaders who make space for gender diversity.
      I am hypothesizing that you can have a ‘nerdish’ organisation that has developed a very masculine kind of leadership, just that the ‘prime nerd’ assumed Napoleonic culture, using your term.

      My view is that the agile frameworks advocate mind-sets and prescriptions that invite gender diversity (among other things). Just as an example, pair programming generates a setting in which much more verbal communication is required, leading to direct communication and less indirect channels (emails, phone, …) in order to successfully complete tasks.
      Otherwise direct communication is reserved to situations where conflicts are more likely to emerge (meetings, reviews, …)

      Borrowing from psychoanalytical systemic approach, agility, when done good enough, forms vessels for a holding and containing environment, within which individuals of multiple orientations can safely meet and work.

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