I am not going to waste time rehashing the promises of agile methodologies (SCRUM, eXtreme Programming, Kanban, Lean, etc.) or diving into the details clearly outlined in the Agile Manifesto (at some point we all stand on the shoulders of giants).  Due to the widespread adoption of “being agile”, it is more critical to consider the true meaning when the only evidence is a daily stand-up meeting with the technology team and a lack of any noticeable improvements to deliver higher quality faster.

Although founded by industry leading technologists, agile is not a technology-driven methodology.  (I know, absolute blasphemy for the agile purists and disciples roaming the skunkworks of corporate America!)  Agile is about an entire company (or even a large division in some organizations) operating in a nimble way and being quick to react with changing market conditions or other demands.  Due to technology being pervasive throughout modern business, reacting to directional shifts is ultimately dependent on the technology itself.

It helps to understand two simple facts found in successful business:

  • Needs change
  • Priorities change

Agile Is NOT a Panacea, Just a Methodology

First, let’s start with the expression being agile.  There is no way to “be” agile or even “do” agile.  Culturally a company needs to operate in an adaptable fashion by aligning with agile principles and values.  In other words, it is important to practice agile. 

Why is this semantic argument valuable?

Practice implies things are never perfect, but always striving towards improvement.  For a company to operate in an agile way requires the very methodology to be constantly evaluated and improved.  Additionally, there is no single flavor of agile that works for every company.  There are too vast an array of personalities, skills, understanding, etc. which will inevitably change over time.

Agile Is a Team Sport

Too often I walk into companies to find the technology team has convinced the business the world would be better if they moved to an agile methodology… translate: do away with time-consuming documentation and let us be free to code!  Contrary to this understanding, practicing agile means all aspects of the business are engaged.

The business needs to manage the backlog of features and priorities.  When priorities change, there are consequences to shifting direction which the business needs to understand and accept responsibility while making any such decision. 

On the other side, the technology team is there to be responsive to the changes and need to structure their work and delivery to accommodate these shifts.  And, each iterative deliverable should never be defended by the statement, “but that is what you asked for!”  Remember, changes simply happen and practicing agile is about aligning with the changing nature of business.

The entire company has a responsibility to contribute their parts, collaborate and cooperate on defining and achieving outcomes, and adjust to using a common language and set of tools.

Companies need to stop being agile and start being businesses… that practice agile.