I’ve never liked the question “are you Agile?”.
Nor the resolute statement “we are/aren’t Agile!”.
Agile is a continuous journey, not a final destination.
The Agile manifesto was created in February of 2001, but the principles themselves aren’t necessarily new. A lot of the thinking and practices that Agile is built on existed in some great places long before those 2 days in February 2001, at a ski lodge in Utah.
Agile is now the label applied to the collection of many of those great principles and practices - empowering teams, conversational collaboration, building quality in, placing user needs first, transparency, continuous improvement, etc. I can keep going - much easier just to say “Agile”, right?
However, the problem is that many organisations forget all that this 5 letter word encompasses and instead cherry-pick certain elements without considering the principles and values of Agile as a whole.
Agile has evolved since the manifesto was created but it's still a great reference on the principles and values that encompass Agile.
At this point I’d like to take a step back and call out some other things that Agile is not…
Agile is not a silver bullet
Agile won't fix your problems, in fact, Agile makes your problems and risks visible! Some organisations have initially found this confronting but it has allowed them to address, improve and grow.
Organisations need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, great things will follow.
Agile is not a way to push more work onto teams
Rather, Agile is about ensuring the team is focused on and empowered to build the right things, in the right way. Productivity, then, may be a happy byproduct but cramming more work into the pipeline should never be a driving force for Agile.
Conversely, focusing on the principles and values of Agile I’ve actually seen a decrease in the amount of work teams appear to complete but the upshot was an increase to the quality of that work, the learnings and the value to users. Which would you prefer?
Agile is not an excuse to avoid planning
Dwight D. Eisenhower once said “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”.
Being Agile reflects this - planning for what we know but being able to change that plan if it makes sense to do so. Too often teams charge headlong into a problem without a clear plan or vision, under the guise of being Agile, this is a guaranteed formula for confusion and wasting time.
Agile is not continuously changing direction
Agile should enable organisations and teams to be able to change direction but only when it makes sense to do so, based on validated learnings and not on whims.
One of the fastest ways I've seen to frustrate your teams is to change focus without a clear benefit to the product.
Agile is not Scrum
Scrum is a framework that aims to introduce Agile principles to teams. Using Scrum can be a good place to start but there is so much more to Agile. Unfortunately a lot of organisations implement stand ups and stop there.
Agile is not a single team change
Beginning with a single team change, I’ve found, is a great way to start the journey but that team needs the rest of the business to support the same principles and values.
It is often necessary to change the way the entire business operates to truly realise the benefits of Agile - business case approvals, organisational hierarchy, autonomy, etc. One team may implement Scrum (for example, as is common, see point above) but if the wider business doesn’t value the principles of Agile there is very limited value.
Agile is not prescriptive
Agile is built on principles and values, so long as organisations foster and strive for those the implementation of Agile can be different every single time - and that’s ok!
Whenever I work with new teams it’s these values and principles that I focus on, the rest falls into place. Prescriptive doesn’t scale but values and principles do.
Agile is not a noun
Nor is it a process. Nor a methodology. To gain the greatest benefits from Agile, organisations need to treat Agile as a verb. I referred to it in a point above as “being Agile”. The best organisations are the ones that have Agile principles and practices as part of their DNA - it’s who they are, it’s what they do! For us, being agile is part of our values.
Ok, so what is Agile then?
Agile is a mindset - a combination of principles and values that must be collectively believed in, cultivated and striven for. It is built on continuous improvement. Even the most “Agile” of places don’t rest on their laurels, they continuously reflect and adapt using the Agile principles and values to guide them and in so doing recognise that Agile is a continuous journey, not a destination.
Agile takes effort, constant effort, to be.
For me, I really love helping teams wherever they are on their Agile journey; being both a coach and a companion. Companion may sound somewhat contradictory to coach but at Pragmateam we believe that an Agile Coach is also a practitioner and after all, I’m on my own continuous Agile journey too :)
Where do you think your organisation is on that journey?