Agile in Three Words: An Attempt at an Epigram

Posted on 7/12/2010 by Rajeev Singh

As I spend more time with leadership at some of my client organizations a theme has started to emerge in our conversations. An aspect of that theme is the curiosity about the preconditions of Agile; "What is the sine qua non of Agile?". A variant is the line of questioning on what I look for in an Agile environment. My summary of Agile in three words: Creative Empirical Mindset. Here's what I mean:

  • Creative: Regardless of the current stance, people leading agile adoptions are, usually, after a new approach to deliver business value. The only realistic and sensible path forward, quite convincingly to me, is to break the routine. This may include, for instance, suspending the division of labor while approaching problem solving within teams. In the interest of getting rid of the historical hangovers of the past, highlighting the unproductive and unfriendly practices, new ideas, and objective feedback are often the best place to start. Unfortunately, the pressure-cooker environment that has come to be in businesses, the approach to "manage" people, and the sophistication of services provided seem to hint at specialization in skills, maximizing their utilization, and staying focused on the "best practices". This has left little room for tolerance of mistakes, missteps, or adventures, which are expected byproducts of creativity. A valuable observation in creativity I have come to admire, watching a few good leaders in the field,is to stop being antagonistic to those who are.
  • Empirical: This is one of the more subtle concepts to tackle in the Agile sphere. Agile or not Agile, empirical approach is utilized in a lot of environments. Agile empiricism is contextual to creativity and to the practices being followed by team(s) on a daily basis. Empiricism in an agile environment is the lever to direct and better utilize creative aspects of Agile and for the team to have its own self-awareness of sorts. Is the team able to, motivated by a desire to continuously improve, reach empirical conclusions?

  • Mindset: In contrast to a process, which tends to codify a sequence of steps in order to reach an end goal, Agile teams are driven to confronting novelty and improvise. In effective Agile teams that craft software, I have not seen a propensity for processes. There almost seems to be no need for it. Often, as I have noticed, the people engaged in these teams don't need one. They are motivated to deliver a good product and seem to know what it takes to get one built and running. They abhor "process" because it restrains them and injects delays in their work. Most importantly, it takes the very soul out of work, because it leaves little space for the thoughtfulness to prosper.
Now, as a few of my esteemed colleagues have pointed out, everyone has their definition of Agile. I'd be curious to know what is yours.

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