NASA got us to the moon. Now SpaceX wants to get us to Mars. The shift from traditional to Modern Agile software development isn’t so different.
Software development teams want to ship high-quality products faster to improve customer satisfaction. Modern Agile helps them by prioritizing respect, experimentation, and safety, not just processes and plans.
The good news? Adopting the Modern Agile approach doesn’t always mean dropping everything and starting over. If you’re already using an Agile framework, you’re well positioned to start thinking about Modern Agile.
What is Modern Agile?
Modern Agile is an adaptive approach to the software development process that delivers in increments and iterations, like traditional Agile, but prioritizes safety, value, and simplicity.
How did Modern Agile develop?
Modern Agile is an evolution of the software development methodology principles set out in the Agile Manifesto.
This document took software development in a new direction. Agile values broke teams out of systems and processes that held back collaboration and flexibility. Here’s how it worked:
Build self-organizing teams to accomplish goals. Don’t become too attached to a single tool or process
Spend more time delivering working software than documenting its development
Create more feedback loops for the customer while recognizing that customer contracts are still important
Make project plans flexible so teams can respond to scope changes
Soon new software development methodologies popped up based on the principles of Agile. Agile teams got used to Scrum sprint planning and Kanban boards.
While agile methods remain useful, Modern Agile goes further. It still has team collaboration, trust, and flexibility at its core, but it’s not tied to a single development method. Teams pick the aspects of Agile that work best for them. Smaller teams might like the rapid code deliveries of Lean but still need a Scrum-like daily standup to discuss obstacles.
Modern Agile transformation isn’t “anti-process.” It means continually refining existing processes if it helps teams scale delivery.
The bottom line? Teams are more important than processes.
4 principles of Modern Agile Development
Modern Agile’s core principles work for both software development teams and organizations as a whole. Their goal? Empower your team and company to challenge any process, including traditional Agile, that has room for improvement.
“Modern Agile is a natural evolution that’s long overdue,” says Agilist David Stannard. “It’s a cleaner way to engage with colleagues and customers without losing the knowledge and skills that make products work.”
1. Make people awesome
By “people,” this principle refers to every stakeholder your company serves, from employees to the customer.
Leaders shouldn’t be afraid to take a step back and audit development processes that no longer work for everyone.
Here’s an example.
Agile Kanban boards use work-in-progress (WIP) limits to make sure developers don’t juggle too many tasks at once. Teams set WIP limits during sprint planning. However, once sprints kick off, front-end developers can often feel overextended.
The Modern Agile framework leaves room to revisit processes already in motion. So the Kanban Service Delivery Master (SDM) would routinely ask teams to reflect on their workflows. The front-end team can speak up if there’s a problem. How does this make stakeholders feel awesome?
The SDM worries less about losing developers due to stress
The front-end team doesn’t feel the need to take shortcuts to maintain timelines
The customer benefits from a better product when teams have the proper resources
If adjusting WIP limits makes teams feel “awesome” — even if it slightly slows the development cycle — then do it!
2. Make safety a prerequisite
As a culture, successful software development depends on employee and customer safety. Safety here is about more than physical well-being.
Company leaders need to create a “safe” workplace by treating employees like, well, people. It means valuing an employee’s time and relationships as much as their ability to deliver software.
Showcasing safety for employees could be in the form of adopting an official remote work policy, so developers can better manage their personal lives while staying productive.
For customers, it means they trust your product will deliver on its promise, and you'll be there to help them achieve their goals.
Creating a safe environment doesn’t happen overnight. It depends on employee and customer feedback. To create this culture, agile leaders send regular surveys asking stakeholders to rate their safety levels and suggest ways to improve it.
3. Experiment and learn rapidly
Any product will have successes and failures. With Modern Agile, it’s important to see both success and failure as learning opportunities.
Sure, mistakes cost a company money, but they can also lead to growth opportunities for avoiding future mishaps. Like Amazon’s spectacular Fire Phone failure — they learned very quickly where not to invest.
Try reframing "failures" as experiments that didn’t have the desired outcome. This can broaden team knowledge and sharpen expertise for future developments. The trick to doing this successfully? Documentation.
A snippet of code, screenshot, or detailed retrospective are helpful for documenting what went wrong, and what can be improved for next time. Try using a tool like ClickUp Docs to build a knowledge base of learnings to equip your team for any questions that might arise down the road.
4. Deliver value continuously
The customer is always first, especially in software development.
To keep the customer at the forefront, continuously delivering value in small iterations over time in a safe and secure manner is better than waiting to deliver value in one big release. This also gives space for teams to celebrate more wins, from debugging a software feature to launching a new product.
Value is “continuous” because you’re constantly adapting to meet the needs of ever-evolving customer expectations.
Stay plugged into the voice of the customer via surveys, meetings, or ad hoc feedback from sales or customer teams. This can help ensure you have a shared understanding of what value looks like and the customer needs you are continuously working toward.
Take Modern Agile for a test drive
Modern Agile software development is the glow-up of the traditional agile approach.
It transforms traditional frameworks like Scrum, Kanban, and Lean into methods that are more flexible, collaborative, and customer-centric.
Safety vs. progress checks
There’s a good chance you’re super familiar with agile daily standups. You know, quick 15-minute syncs where you discuss the day’s goals and progress on deliverables.
Modern Agile gives you the opportunity to turn daily standups into safety checks instead of just progress checks.
Make standups safe-zones where teams can raise challenging topics, and you’ll mitigate personnel issues sooner. You might miss product-release deadlines if software developers quit because they’re afraid to speak up.
Creating a safe-zone takes time. Try using ClickUp Forms to send teams anonymous polls on their feelings of safety. As a leader, share poll results at your next standup and encourage teams to share their thoughts. No idea should be off limits!
Nimble teams vs. small teams
This new approach to software development shifts the mindset that smaller teams are “better” teams. The new mindset? Nimble teams are better teams. Size is secondary.
Say a front-end development team of 12 isn’t meeting their end-of-sprint goals. Traditionally, a Scrum master might divide the developers into two teams of six and reallocate tasks.
A Scrum master with a nimble mindset would consider team size but also look for other root causes of inefficiency. Teams of six or 12 can easily experience the same roadblocks:
They start working in a silo and don’t set up a shareable knowledge base
Certain team members get stuck with busywork that could be automated
No one on the team is able to prioritize tasks
Modern Agile empowers teams to challenge the system itself, not just parts of the system.
Adaptable sprints vs. short sprints
Sprint planning is a key part of the Agile Scrum framework. The Scrum master plans the length of sprints and helps define what development teams should deliver when sprints end.
The Agile Manifesto encourages teams to shorten sprint times from months to weeks. Why? To deliver more customer value in less time.
Modern Agile software development goes a step further by encouraging teams to shorten sprints even more if that helps them deliver “continuous value.”
If a team can deliver a valuable feature in a matter of days, then sprint times should adjust. Thankfully, adaptable sprints are easy to manage with ClickUp. Set sprint dates and mark priorities so teams are on the same page.
ClickUp also lets you measure a team’s work pace against targets with burndown charts. Similarly, use burnup charts to keep an eye on work completed and the scope of work remaining.
Valuable products vs. working products
Of course, all software must “work.” But the Modern Agile framework attaches a question to the agile goal of continuous delivery:
Is this software iteration as valuable as it can be for the customer?
Say an agile team working on a ride-sharing app lets users summon a car in five screen taps. With more experimentation, the team may realize users find five taps to be a lot. The app works, but it could be better, more valuable.
Agile workflows value iterative development. Modern Agile values it too, but makes experimentation while iterating safe. Ever heard of “failing forward”?
So, before delivering the five-tap solution, build time into the workflow to try a three-tap solution. It might fail but lead to insights that result in a faster, more user-centric four-tap solution.
The key to continuously delivering valuable products? Communication.
Form your own internal guesses about what makes your product great. But always talk to your users about what they love (or don’t). You don’t know those five taps are annoying until you ask!
How to bring Modern Agile to your business
Your software development processes can’t change overnight. Think of this approach as an invitation to rethink your current processes.
Here are a few ways to be more Agile in your business — even if it means reimagining your current agile processes.
Boost team morale with ground-up workflows
Consider a typical Scrum cycle:
Scrum team sprints are two weeks long
Daily scrums last 15 minutes
Sprint reviews last 30 minutes
Sprint retrospective meetings last 60 minutes
These rigid timelines may have worked for a while. But suppose developers start missing daily Scrums because they don’t find them useful. And customers start complaining that you’re not delivering new features fast enough.
Both are signs that teams aren’t feeling “awesome.”
If this situation sounds familiar, poll your teams to find out why morale is low. Lean, Kanban, and Scrum are great development frameworks. But the solution might be ditching them entirely and rebuilding.
Modern Agile boosts morale by freeing teams to create workflows that work for them. One step in Agile workflow creation is “Norming.” Here you assign team roles and workloads. You take an agile methodology like Lean and create teams around it. Modern Agile isn’t afraid to skip this step.
This might sound chaotic, but it’s not. It simply lets methods spring from the needs of people, not from a legacy process.
Safely release new products faster
The Agile Manifesto pushes teams to release new features constantly. But what if the release of new features causes existing features to break?
This situation is common with agile teams for a few reasons:
They’re so anxious to deliver new working features that they don’t test them against previous deliveries
Knowledge gleaned in feedback sessions isn’t documented, so the broader team doesn’t learn from past mistakes
Teams are afraid to alter project scopes because they fear backlash from leadership. They end up delivering unnecessary features that interfere with core features
Modern Agile minimizes these issues. It empowers team members to speak up when project scopes need revision.
No developer wants to be the one to call “Status Red” on a project, even in an agile environment.
Agile tries to prevent “Status Red” situations by breaking scopes into smaller pieces. But sometimes teams need to go a step further.
Modern Agile builds safety checks into product backlogs.
When a feature works, teams have the added task of testing it against shipped features. If compatibility issues pop up, no one gets in trouble because they were simply completing an assigned task.
Timelines may shift, but the team feels safe moving forward.
Teach non-agile teams the culture of Modern Agile
The agile framework was created so software teams could deliver better products faster.
But say an agile product manager has to meet with a marketing director who is unfamiliar with the Agile framework. The marketing director might build messaging for a product based on its initial scope.
But if product features change thanks to Modern Agile’s emphasis on experimenting, the marketer won’t feel “awesome.”
Modern Agile tries to build bridges between agile and non-agile departments, because everyone in the company ecosystem should “feel awesome” to deliver maximum business value.
So, a product lead may need to educate other product management and department heads about agile culture and how it can benefit their teams. This may lead to changes in their own departments that lead to a cultural transformation in the company.
David Stannard notes that “it’s rare to get an organization to change that significantly.” He recommends hiring a change management expert to oversee any Modern Agile transformation.
But it’s worth the effort if it tightens communication between departments.