The Agile Manifesto and Integral Theory

In the past couple years, I have gone through the 4th and 5th edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), both for my own certification and to lead a study group at the Project Management Institute.    This year I am taking the Project Management Professional Exam, which has at its core both the 6th edition of the PMBOK guide AND the Agile Practice Guide, a collaboration between PMI and the Agile Alliance.  Last year I went through every section of the 6th Edition, and this year I plan to go through every section of the Agile Practice Guide.   It will probably also go through several revisions in the future, and I plan to cover those well.

I am not trying to give the definitive analysis on Agile because I am in fact learning it, and am not yet an experienced practitioner.   I am giving my thoughts and notes on the Agile Practice Guide to help me in my studies towards passing the PMP exam, and so I can have a point of reference for future study groups for the Project Management Institute.

For now, let’s go to Section 2, an Introduction to Agile.

What are the origins of Agile project management?   For a complete history, see the post on the Agile manifesto at the following site.

This one sentence for summarizes the motivation behind the Agile Manifesto:  “In order to succeed in the new economy, to move aggressively into the era of e-business, e-commerce, and the web, companies have to rid themselves of their Dilbert manifestations of make-work and arcane policies.”   Dilbert is a cartoon by Scott Adams famous for making fun of the micromanagement style found in  corporate offices in the United States.   In my opinion, Agile can be seen as returning the power of decision-making closer to the people who are actually doing the work and who are contact with the customers.

Here are the contents of the Agile Manifesto

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.   Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan”

Here is what leaps out at me when I read these four statements together.   Notice that the common word that states the distinction between Agile and traditional project management is “over”, NOT “instead of.”   This means that the Agile methodology does not totally repudiate the use of, for example, processes and tools, but rather FAVORS individuals and interactions.

What do all of these shifts in emphasis have in common?   To dig a little deeper, let us bring in the system of quadrants from Integral Theory.   It views any event, like a project, from four different possible points of view.

  • The interior individual, which relates to a person’s values, their motivations, etc.
  • The interior collective, which relates to an organization’s values, its purpose, and its priorities.
  • The exterior individual, which relates to the observed behaviors and performance outcomes we would like for members of the team.
  • The exterior collective, which relates to the systems (organizational structure, processes, tools) that an organization uses to accomplish its goals.

Here is a diagram that puts these four quadrants together.


Here are the items on the right-hand side of the Agile manifesto:

  • processes
  • tools
  • documentation
  • contracts
  • a plan

Where are these items in the Integral Theory quadrants?   They are part of the Exterior Collective quadrant, under SYSTEMS.

Now take a look at the items on the left-hand side of the Agile manifesto:

  • interactions
  • working software
  • customer collaboration
  • responding to change

Now, “software” could be considered as part of SYSTEMS, but “interactions and customer collaboration” are part of the interior collective quadrant under CULTURE (the exchange of artifacts between people), and “responding to change” is part of BEHAVIOR.   So it is really a shift in consciousness about what has more emphasis.

NOTE, however, that the word “over” means that the other quadrants are in play.   Yes, an individual’s motivations are very important, but many people I have talked to who have used agile tools such as Kanban report a higher level of engagement and satisfaction among the team members who use them.   This means that their motivation is stronger because they feel a stronger “connection” to the project.   And, of course, working software is part of a system, but it is a system which constantly changes due to interactions with other elements of the quadrant, rather than being something which dominates the other quadrants like a rigid project plan.

The emphasis is not just on the wider sweep of Agile in terms of what quadrants it engages, but also on their interaction, which accelerates the evolution of the team using it, and hopefully, the organization which is carrying it out.

And not to neglect the upper left quadrant of INTENTION, the Agile manifesto is about the values and priorities that individuals on the team should reflect if they are to succeed.

In the next post, on the Twelve Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto, we will discuss in more depth what those values are.

Let me end by saying, therefore, that the changing nature of projects required that the lenses through which people look at them change as well.   That was my point in bringing Integral Theory into this discussion, but I hope you will see from the above discussion exactly HOW this new mindset changes the traditional mindset behind projects.


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