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Be or Be Not; there is no Do in Agile

Why do we practice this thing we call Agile?  Is it for the results it provides? 

I've been working with companies and people that use the "A" word in many different ways.  Sometime the word is used as if it were a method of working.
"We are doing Agile on this project, but the team has 34% story carry over each iteration."
Sometimes it is used as a bludgeon to beat someone not behaving as one would like them to behave.
Sales:  "I'd like you to work on this severity one bug, it just came in and the customer while not really blocked is considering a purchase of our SuperWidget and if you just sneak this in today they will be really happy."  
Team Member:  "Sorry, talk to the PO we have sprint commitments." 
Sales:  "Well, that's not very Agile!"  
While at other times it is a promised land, a utopia of project management where we all live in harmony.  Many times it is used as a technique to achieve some other purpose, a differentiator that will achieve some other objective.  Objectives such as speed to market, doubling revenue in five years, raising quality while lowering cost, there are many other business objectives for "installing the agile".

I am not surprise when department managers say their groups are doing Agile.  I typically bit my tongue and run through this test in my head.

  • Show me your teams interacting with each other, the customers, and product owner more than they are working with the tools, process, etc.  
  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Great you must have working software, show me your last iteration demo on the staging server, now.  
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Which one of these people is the customer?  
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • What feed back did the customer give in the last month or two that cause you to deliver higher value than initially planned?  
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Is there just one process way to do these things?  No.  There are thousands of ways to do these things.

Those things are the definition of Agile.  Agile is not a method, it is a way of being.  It is a synergy of many things we do, and many things we do not do.  It is in the decision we make and it is mostly in the underlying reasons - why - we make those decisions.

One could do Scrum or XP, those are processes (or frameworks or techniques) - but one cannot do Agile.  However, one could be Agile.  Agility is a path, either you are on it, or off it - there is no Agile destination.

Yoda teaching young Skywalker "Do or do not, there is no try."

But why should one attempt to be Agile?  Answering this question is getting to the core purpose.  It is not about all the outcomes that might result in a group or organization being Agile.  If being Agile is the goal, then we are surely going to disappoint someone.  Perhaps ourselves, perhaps our customers. Customers don't want us to responded to their change request - they want products that met their discovered needs (true needs) with the ability to sustain the continual deliver of meeting their needs in the future.

Simon Sinek TED Talk: How great leaders inspire action

I think we must be Agile for our selves.  Then align our values of being Agile within the context of the purpose of the organization we choose to work with.  If this alignment is too difficult, the friction too high, options exist.  Explore those options.

An agile enterprise is one that has achieved a level of operational excellence that enables it to make changes at the same pace that it discovers a need for them. -- Tim Snyder

Tim explains with great clarity why Agile is a proper goal for an organization (not all companies - but some).  Agile is a slightly unique type of goal - a system-optimizing goal.


Kelly Waters said…
Hi David. I agree that agile is a way of being, but there are various agile practices - so called because they are practices that support key agile principles - and surely you can *do* these?

Kelly Waters
Anonymous said…

I completely agree!It is more important to be agile than it is to "declare agility" and adopt the practices and terminology of a framework without living the values and principles that underscore agile development. If you aren't striving to be agile, you won't reap the benefits...

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