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Tuesday, 09 February 2016
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When is it Not Agile - Part Two

Just what is “Agile”

There have of course been many great successes from taking a “big A” approach. The “sweet spot” scenarios involve the need for innovation and rapid creativity, where at the start there is an incomplete vision of the end product. (There have been failures too, but we won’t talk about those here.)

Now the astute Agile practitioner will have caught my deliberate error above. There is no such thing as a “by-the-book big A” approach. There are many books! When one reads about analysis of Agile use, it is usually in the form of “which of these .. are people using?”. Different people are using different aspects of Agile. And sometimes there are great debates between thought leaders about the superiority of some aspects over others – but somehow “it’s all Agile”.

The common elements of all of them are a set of principles and techniques, sometimes with competing new words for old concepts. But there really is no “official Agile methodology” that goes beyond the Manifesto. And the Manifesto has “loopholes” if you will:

…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 …

It seems many skip over this acknowledgement of value in the things to the right. The real message of the Manifesto as I read it – is that we should take every opportunity to focus on the things on the left – except that reality sometimes demands some things on the right.

It’s fascinating to see the different Agile labels that are emerging. This one is “Scaled”. That one is “Hybrid”. That one over there is “Disciplined”. (See a separate set of posts on Scrum – the most popular genetic strain at the moment.) So many people are trying to brand their approach by hooking into the word but trying to be different at the same time. And then organizations and teams will choose one of these labels as their identity, and decide to strictly follow the implications of that identity.

Now I have no problem with somebody building their own brand by putting a label on how they do things to help sell themselves – but as professionals trying to do the real work after the sale, why do get so caught up in these labels? I hear people arguing about whether they should do a certain thing because it’s “not Agile”. (Or being skeptical about a proposed approach just because it doesn’t fit their particular concept of Agile.)

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