Ben Morris
Ben Morris
Ben Morris | | @bengm | printed March 06, 2017

The Agile Manifesto signatory list looks like a 30 year frat reunion

27 February 2012    tech

I looked up the Agile Manifesto signatory list for some random reason, and it struck me as to how non-diverse the group seemed. I did some intense research (i.e. Google Image search), and did confirm that they all seem to be middle-aged white males.

Images taken from herethere, and over there.

Edit: My original post had the wrong Dave Thomas. Image has been replaced w/ Pragmatic Dave Thomas. (At least I didn't use the other other Dave Thomas.) Thanks to @TotherAlistair for pointing it out.

Not wanting to take this collection of faces at face value, I realized that the group is in fact rather diverse:

  • 41% are bald/balding
  • 41% have facial hair, and 29% of those rock a mustache
  • 29% have white hair, 18% blondish, and the remaining 53% have dark hair

That is just the tip of the diversity iceberg. The group contains not only Americans of European descent, but also several actual Europeans. (I have heard Martin Fowler talk in a video in a convincing British accent. With a name like van Bennekum, one must be from the Netherlands or West Michigan, but judging from the long hair it is probably the latter. A couple of them have the sort of dour look in their photos that lead me to believe that they are either German or Australian. Lacking the sort of crack research staff that can comb through a dozen or more wikipedia articles, I cannot confirm this, but let's just assume that 29% are European.)

Sarcasm aside, I value the manifesto and greatly respect the signatories.

The Agile Manifesto was/is a breath of fresh air for the software development community. It has influenced many a team, and has even started to gain critical mass in the US federal government and bureaucratic public firms (in only 10 years, that is indeed impressive). I have often found useful guidance or inspiration through the writings and teachings of the people in the photos above. I in no way intend to diminish the individuals, or the group.

But what if the signatory list reflected the diversity of the software community?

I have seldom worked on software teams that look like the above, that are as old or white (though often as male). Would the manifesto be different if there were more Asian voices? One woman? In fairness, the list probably somewhat represents the demographics of well established, experienced software thought leaders as of 10 years go.

Most teams I see reflect the UN more than the above demographic. Although I would not presume to change anything, I would look with a critical eye toward Agile adoption through this lens. A homogeneous group can make assumptions about what works well. Agile relies on communication within the team, and with customers. Communication and team dynamics are highly influenced by culture. That is one thing if the whole team grew up in Chicago, it is another if half the team grew up in China.

But what if the software development community looked as it should?

Agile is a reaction to flawed approaches of the past. Past practices were an outgrowth of male-dominated, hierarchy-based cultures like the Department of Defense, IBM or NASA (of the past). It would be an interesting thought experiment to think of a world where software had reflected a wider demographic for the past forty years - half female, at least half non-American/European. Would the manifesto have been necessary?  For example, more female leaders team members might have resulted in more self organization and collaboration. Similarly, many asian cultures value relationships and interactions over formalized contracts. What then?