As we encounter numerous large-scale environmental challenges, the Agile community is beginning to focus on the pressing concern of sustainability.
In the following Q&A session, we talked with three seasoned members of the Agile community – Jutta Eckstein, Ines Garcia, and Maryse Meinen (co-chairs of the Agile Sustainability Initiative). Together, they shed light on the Sustainability Initiative, the new Agile Sustainability Manifesto, and the much-anticipated State of Sustainability in Agile event (SoSA 2023) coming on November 3.
The Agile Sustainability Initiative
What inspired the inception of the Sustainability Initiative, and what problems or needs is it trying to address?
Jutta Eckstein (JE): We are facing severe planetary challenges. These challenges are complex and wicked problems. We believe the Agile community has principles and practices at hand to address complex problems and, because of that, also has a responsibility to contribute to greater – social, environmental, and economic – sustainability.
Ines Garcia (IG): With the tools and practices that we have at hand, we can increase predictability and reduce risk pronto! As Agile practitioners, much of what we do is being change enablers. Enable Change. Hired to do “business transformation,” I argue, enable evolution! What is a greater and most pressing challenge than sustaining life on Earth?
Maryse Meinen (MM): There is so much to do, AND as Agilists, we can actually make a huge difference if we start weaving sustainability improvements in our daily work, too. I personally really feel that Agile offers us ways to get things in motion: it is a way out of feeling overwhelmed by the urgency of the challenge. Yes, the challenges are severe, AND yes, together, we can make a difference. To make that happen, we need to unite all our forces. We need everybody, everywhere, all at once – and this initiative is one of the ways to combine our collective power and wisdom for a greater good!
How does the initiative aim to increase sustainability within Agile practices and through Agile’s influence?
JE: In general, there are two approaches: “Sustainability by Agile,” which is about using the principles, practices, and tools to increase sustainability. Africa Agility, for example, provides education in Agile development for African women and, this way, addresses economic sustainability by significantly improving the lives of these students. The other approach is “Sustainability in Agile,” which uses sustainability as a guideline in Agile development. If teams follow that approach, they will have a definition of done that monitors, for example, the carbon footprint of their system with every delivery.
IG: With both approaches, we aim to provide knowledge and inspiration to enable action regarding sustainability to the (broader) Agile community. That is from awareness activities such as content, tools, and alliances to acting as ignitor to evolve our craft within with case studies, experience reports, and skills networks; and, lastly, tackling the beyond as a guide to how the Agile Alliance can leverage its influence by the yearly Agile events, education, and sponsorship.
MM: The initiative aims to be a source of information and inspiration regarding sustainability by and in Agile to other initiatives within the Agile Alliance and to its members: we are here to help you find your way in the forest of sustainability. We aim to be a starting point, a hub of sorts.
The Agile Sustainability Manifesto
What was the motivation behind developing the Agile Sustainability Manifesto?
IG: In all honesty, it was a way to divert energy from frustration to productivity. As a biomimicry practitioner, I try to remind myself how nature uses energy. Nature is incredibly efficient, and in the face of the biggest challenge that our species has faced to date, every bit of energy is much needed. A burst of energy drove us to spell out what we see as the values of Agile Sustainability and the principles that can help us drive our decisions. Together, we can.
JE: In other words, the Agile Sustainability Manifesto is meant to guide sustainability both in and by Agile.
What are some tangible ways teams can incorporate the Agile Sustainability Principles into their daily practices?
IG: EVERYTHING! In all seriousness, every meeting, every tool under your belt, every practice … take it up a notch to account for social and ecological value. For example, back in 2021, I first published the idea of evolving Value Stream Mapping, which is very commonly used in our industry, and instead of only looking at it through one single variable (time), you can relatively easily infuse it with other variables such as materials, energy, and transport, how we do what we do MATTERS.
MM: As a product person, I would like to focus my answer on the product development side of things – In my humble opinion, a very sensible practice for every team is to critically refine every item you come across through the sustainability lens. Consider, for example, “planet personas” (or stakeholders) and ask critical degrowth questions when it comes to product development: Do we really need this, or could we make do with what we already have? This practice of maximizing the work NOT DONE should already be applied anyway but can take on a different dimension with sustainability in mind.
JE: Moreover, we can all ensure that the software we develop doesn’t force our clients to buy new hardware, and this way increases the electronic waste. So our systems should also run smoothly on old devices. We should verify this for every story we deliver.
The State of Sustainability in Agile – SoSA 2023
What are the main objectives of the SoSA 2023 event?
JE: We want to look at the current state of sustainability in Agile by learning from various experiences. This year, the focus is on product development. So, how does product development need to change to use sustainability as a guideline?
MM: As we Agilists all know, you can only improve things if you measure things. This event aims to provide a first overview of where we stand as Agilists when it comes to sustainability. The other objective is to provide hands-on ideas so attendees can start improving the state of sustainability in their context, no matter where they are now.
What actionable insights can attendees expect to take away from the event?
IG: Plenty! For a real-life example of career evolution, a product creation for action, a tool for development, a note on team diversity, how to do product on a finite planet & the launch of the Agile Sustainability Manifesto.
MM: We aim for attendees to take away the feeling they actually can make a huge difference when it comes to sustainability in their daily work, regardless of their context and starting point. The sessions are meant for inspiration and also for “how to get started.”
How can interested individuals register for the SoSA 2023 event?
JE: You can easily register from the SoSA’s event page. The cool thing is that it is free for all Agile Alliance members (and for non-members, the conference is available for just $29).