Modern or modern Agile?

I’m a sports geek.  I love sports. I love watching sports. I love playing sports. I love most things sports.

For my birthday last year, my wife gave me a wonderful sports book titled:  On the Origins of Sports: The Early History and Original Rules of Everybody’s Favorite Game.  If you’re a sports geek like I am, you’ll probably enjoy reading it.


The book takes a look at 21 different sports (including soccer, football, hockey, fantasy football and many others sports) in society today.  What’s wonderful about the book is that it guides the reader through the evolution of the different sports, from their origins to their current (or should I say modern) day form.

While there were many things that I learned while reading the book, a particular theme stuck with me.  In spite of the changes that occurred in a given sport, be it in the rules, the size of the playing surface, the nature of the equipment, the number of players etc. the essence (soul or spirit) of the sport remained the same.  The moment the essence changed, a new sport emerged.

What do I mean by the “essence” of the sport?  What is the “soul” or the “spirit” of the sport?  By essence, I’m referring to the core values, objectives and aims of the sport.  For example, in soccer, it’s kicking a round leather ball into the opposition’s goal and in basketball its bouncing and shooting a round ball through a hoop.  Regardless of how the infrastructure of the sport may have evolved, the values and principles of the sport were preserved.  American football has evolved since its invention in 1800’s and yet its essence has remained (largely) the same.

This brings me to my thoughts on the Modern Agile movement. First of all, I think there is a difference between “Modern Agile” and “modern Agile”.  I do like the things I see promoted as part of Modern Agile. I think Modern Agile may be attempting to define a new soul. I think Modern Agile may be a completely new game. I may also be completely wrong.

On the other hand, I consider “modern Agile” to be the evolution in the infrastructure that is used to play the sport of Agile.  In other words, it is the change in the practices that we use in support of Agile values and principles.  The essence of Agile is found in the Agile Manifesto and curiously enough, the Agile Manifesto actually starts with “…uncovering better ways…” and a principle that requires continuous inspection and adaptation. So Agile at its core demands evolution.  (Now I know that there are some who believe the Agile Manifesto has outlived its usefulness and if that’s you, then you’ve probably already moved on to a new sport).

The moment we decide to change the essence of Agile, I’m not sure it remains Agile. This could be the right thing to do. It could be that we actually need a new sport.  And we have recent examples of this such as the Lean Startup.  But even though both table tennis (ping pong) and (lawn) tennis have similarities, they are clearly different sports.  One is not the “modern” version of the other and it’s important that we recognize this.  Who says we can’t play more than one sport?

What say you?



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