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What is Agile?



What is Agile? What's meant by being Agile? When you think about it... It's amazing this question isn't asked more often! It's almost certainly not asked enough especially by companies who suddenly decide to go Agile in an attempt to fix all of their problems!

Perhaps more telling is that I've been writing posts on this blog for many years and it's only now that I'm addressing this question.




I've worked with several companies who have made the transition to Agile practices but what does it look like? How would you define the practices of being Agile? How do you know when you've got there? Can you ever get there?

Taking a look at the Agile manifesto is probably a good start... http://agilemanifesto.org/ They list the following high-level values:-


  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan
But it doesn't really explain what Agile looks and feels like! Nor is it anything like a roadmap for implementation... It's not meant to be.

I was at an Agile meetup recently where this question was asked.... And even in a room full of Agile enthusiasts, Scrum Masters and delivery managers we couldn't define what the term really meant.

I suspect if I asked the question what is a Sports-car or what makes a good sports-car?  We'd struggle to come up with a definitive description that would fit every sportscar ever made! (With the exception of the mighty MX5 - which is probably the best sports-car ever!) 

Whilst writing this article I tried to Google 'What is Agile' the first page I got back talked about iterative time boxed product enhancements - That sounds like a high-level description of doing Scrum to me.... Which means if you're doing more of a continual flow model such as a Kanban approach you wouldn't be Agile?

Is it a form of project management? Like PRINCE2? I sometimes say I do Agile Project Management - I also talk at high-level about Agile techniques being an alternative to PRINCE2 - However those that have read much of my work will also know I often talk about using PRINCE2 as a wrapper around Agile practices to fill the gaps missing from frameworks such as Scrum and Kanban!

When I work with a new company who wants to move to Agile practices I often ask them the question... What is your definition of Agile? That question probably reveals why they want to be Agile... With the usual answer being... To be more competitive in getting products to market! Shorter lead times, more transparency.....

So if you're a company, organisation or team that wants to move to being Agile... What would your vision statement look like? That one-liner or paragraph that describes your Agile utopian vision?

I think mine would probably look something like this:-

"A lifelong commitment to becoming a learning organisation, Where we continually review and refine our methods of working at all levels based on evidence and feedback. 

Where decision-making is visible, genuinely collaborative and encouraged" 

So no mention of standups, planning sessions, user stories or even poker! But a commitment to learn and improve based on what works and what doesn't!

So now it's your turn... What is Agile?