Defining Agile outside of the IT Industry
When delivering Agile training, I sometimes get asked the question “what is Agile?”. To this question there are a number of stock answers typically given:
- It is 4 Values, 12 Principles and a large number of Practices,
- It is not just Scrum,
- It is mindset … (zen-like silence),
- It is a time boxed, iterative approach to software deliver,
- Read the Agile Manifesto,
- It is about being agile, not doing agile,
- I have a further half dozen slides that help define it.
Being an engineer, the answers above are interesting but not really very concrete or satisfying. This got me thinking, is it possible to define something more robust and useful as to what “Agile” or “Agility” (note the upper case A) actually means?
To make the question a little more challenging and as many of my stakeholders are interested in Agile in non software settings (e.g. in audit functions, report writing), could this definition encompass more than just Agile software development?
Any journey to attempt to define Agile has to start at the Agile Manifesto (published at http://agilemanifesto.org). This to me is the most definitive statement for what Agile is — albeit now 17 years old. There is a problem however. If we want our definition to cover non software uses, we need to find a suitable substitue for the phrase “working software” — after some thought I settled on “business value”. Can you think of any better alternatives?
The Agile manifesto was created by the Agile founders whilst at a ski retreat. It is brilliant stuff, especially the 4 manifesto values, but I find the 12 principles do ramble on a little with multiple points embedded in each (I do wonder if they were developed “at the bar” after many hours of work). For example:
“Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done”
Well from this one principle we can tease out 4 potential points to consider, namely 1. Motivation, 2. environment, 3. support, and 4. trust.
I persevered with this analysis for all 4 values and the remaining 11 principles, generalising and refining at each step. After capturing every possible consideration, I consolidated the list down to a more manageable and digestable size. Eventually I came up with what I thought were 8 common themes that the Agile Manifesto dwelled on:
- Business Value,
- Continuous Improvement.
Using these as my titles, I moved on to writing a short sentence to describe how this was important to being “Agile”.
Finally, to check and show my thought process, I decided to traced these back through the 4 Agile Manifesto values (where I could), and to link them onto one or more of the original 12 Agile Manifesto principles.
And the final result? Well after a little bit of playing around with some graphics on the Mac, I came up with the picture below. It now helps me to internalise what “Agile” is — and to answer that difficult question “what is Agile?”, should it be asked. I’m posting this articule in the hope that others may garner some value out of this too. Enjoy …