“That’s not agile”

Door Patrick Verheij

We’ve heard that phrase over and over again. And we still do.\r\n\r\nI keep asking people what they mean when they busy that phrase. Tyically I get responses that point to stuff like:\r\n

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  • A certain team is not ‘doing Scrum’ according to the book.
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  • A team is still dependent on another team or on individual people outside the team.
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  • A manager is giving us orders and we hate it.
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  • A team doesn’t write user stories like “as a user..”.
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  • People hand over work to others.
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  • A ‘standup’ session takes more than 15 minutes.
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  • A team is not working with post-its but uses Jira or some other tool.
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\r\nOr in general: someone says or does something which seems not in line with what is accepted as ‘agile’ by the person who is witnessing it.\r\n\r\nBut the opposite is so easy: saying “let’s be agile” when showing up late for an appointment or when needing a bit more time to get something finished. And as such using it as an excuse to do whatever we like.\r\n\r\nSo if we tell someone that something is or isn’t agile, try to be a lot more specific.\r\n\r\nLike Dave Thomas states in his presentation Agile is Dead: “Agile is an adjective, not a noun”. Something is agile. Agile isn’t something.\r\n\r\nWhat exactly do we mean when something isn’t agile? Are we taking about an adaptivity goal which isn’t yet met? Talking about a rigid environmet perhaps? Or practices which are absent or badly used? Behavour which is not in line with the manifesto?\r\n\r\nEarlier I wrote a short article about 4 perspectives on agile (the word), wich may be helpful to express what we mean.\r\n\r\nPersonally I tend to look at behaviour mostly. If a person shows signs of a genuine interest in what’s happening. A longing to understand what is going on. A desire to use that understanding to find improvements. To change something for the better. Then I qualify that as agile behaviour.\r\n\r\n”We are uncovering better ways to develop software…”, remember? First sentence in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.\r\n\r\nUncovering new stuff to do better work. To deliver better work. To change our environment for the better. Knowing WHY we change something.\r\n\r\nIf you’re unsure, perhaps just ditch the word “agile” and start having a meaningful conversation instead. Agile isn’t a holy thing. It isn’t anything anyway, except an adjective to be used with something else.\r\n\r\nDid you, by the way, ever realize how difficult it actually is to classify anything as “agile”? Even when using it as an adjective?\r\n\r\nWhat exactly is an agile developer? An agile practie? An agile team? An agile coach? An agile organization?\r\n\r\nCould we really find one perfect definition for such things? Could we “standardize” it and make it version 1.0 final?\r\n\r\nI actually don’t care. I’d rather have that meaningful conversation about what we do and the options we have from there.\r\n\r\nIf you ever catch me using the phrase “that’s not agile” again, please kick me and have me type out this article on a rusty typewriter 100 times 🙂

Patrick Verheij

06 59 443 447

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