Embarking on your Agile journey – What is Agile?

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What is Agile?

Becoming an Agile Annie/Agile Andy

I recently was contacted by a friend from college who has found herself swimming in a job market that requires experience with “Agility.” Annie reached out to me via social media asking for help understanding what agility is and how to grow her skills so that she can be competitive in today’s Agile-driven market.

If you are just diving into the Agile world, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. All the Agile stories, details, process and streams of random information can make it difficult to know where to jump in.

In this post, I will attempt to outline the basics of Agile and provide some first-step action-items that may be helpful in embarking on your Agile journey. In this post, I will attempt to help answer the question, “What is Agile?”

First, let’s look at “Agile” from a high level.

Understanding Agile

Agile is a work process increasingly used by software developers. This process can be applied to many things in life. Agile is about getting back to the basics of human interaction, accountability (to customers as well as teammates) and progress.

Agile is about behaviors

Agile is a methodology that empowers people so that they produce amazing results.

The Agile foundation is simple.

  • Interact with each other; communicate face-to-face.
  • Produce working software; develop smaller increments of work so that you can release your work to customers more frequently.
  • Collaborate with your customers directly; find out what they want instead of assuming you know.
  • Adapt to change; smaller increments of work will allow you to develop for a changing market more smoothly.

In an Agile environment, increased performance and productivity are results of Agile behaviors. All too often, organizations breed a culture that forces employees onto the Agile movement by pushing process, (IE. Scrum) rather than building the culture of self-organization and empowerment.

Agile is about interacting, communicating, being transparent and working together so that individuals can come to work and do what they love; passionately creating the world we live in. This methodology does not occur overnight. It takes time and requires accountability to being Agile and continually improving. Processes, like Scrum or Kanban, are incredibly powerful when implemented atop an Agile organization that uses the process to propel a self-organized team empowered to produce amazing results for their customers.

This is Agile. Agile is not process or dogma. Agile is the practice and art of doing what you need to do to be effective for your customers. Agile is a mindset that is aligned to the high-level values and principles from the Agile Manifesto.

Companies, executives and managers who foster this will be equipped to create an Agile workplace. What’s even greater … many believe these values and principles apply to all areas of life, not just software development.

The Agile Manifesto

So, if Agile is not about process, how was the methodology founded?
In 2001, a group of software developers and engineers met in Snowbird, Utah to uncover and publish the common threads that unify them in their processes. After days of collaborating, they discovered that their best work was accomplished through human interaction, frequent progress and shared accountability. Some of them were surprised to uncover the truth about their best work resided in the “mushy stuff”; the people-part of their work. (Read more about the history of the Manifesto)

Through their discovery, they wrote and signed the Agile Manifesto.

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.

    Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

I encourage you to take a look at the simple, easy-to-understand set of values and principles within the Agile Manifesto.

Agile is not about process

People who think Agile is simply about improving performance may be surprised to learn that Agile is actually about the behaviors that create productivity and improve performance. Agile is not about pushing process (IE. Scrum) so that people produce and feel empowered. It’s exactly the opposite.

Agile behaviors empower self-organized teams that produce great results.

Processes, like Scrum or Kanban, are most effective when implemented in Agile teams; who are interacting, delivering small increments of work frequently, collaborating with customers and adapting to changes in the market.

Unfortunately, many executives and managers have jumped onto the Agile-movement-slash-freight-train after a conference-inspired-epiphany; thinking that a process, like Scrum, will improve performance and productivity. While we may see a small spike in effectiveness when implementing Scrum, the process will likely fall short if not implemented with management and teams aligning with the Agile methodology.

The popular Agile processes, such as Scrum and Kanban, are merely vehicles to elicit Agile behaviors of interacting, collaborating and delivering quality results to customers.

It is not uncommon to see management and teams become frustrated when attempting to implement a process without the Agile mindset driving the change. Sadly, the otherwise effective processes, like Scrum, can be seen as ineffective due to poor implementation and uninformed leadership. In the end, these attempts to improve performance don’t improve anything; except possibly the quality of employees’ resumes and LinkedIn profiles.

Getting Started

Become an Agile Annie / Agile Andy

1. Familiarize Yourself. Get to know the Agile Manifesto; Agile Values and Principles.
2. Join a User Group. All it takes is one individual to introduce and implement Agility in your workplace. Be the catalyst. If you are unsure about where to start, check out local Agile User Groups in your area.

Here are a few popular organizations that will surely welcome your interest and support you in your journey.
Scrum Alliance
Agile Leadership Network

This post is dedicated to Annie. She naturally possesses the character traits of a true Agilist; Courage, Connection and the desire to Continually Improve.

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