I spent the past week in Orlando, Florida at the Agile Development Practices conference and I heard a number of people say “We do agile at our company.” When pressed further it suddenly became “We do agile at our company except we don’t do …” To me that sums up the problem of DOING agile versus BEING agile. It is quite easy to DO agile. You pick the non-threatening pieces and parts and simply do those. Then you say you are doing agile and no one is the wiser. Unfortunately, when pressed you have to admit to not quite doing agile very well.
Being agile is completely different. Being agile means you understand the principles which lead to true agile success. It also means the team and organization are both constantly improving. When you are being agile daily standup meetings and retrospectives are both very important meetings which help the team be successful. Finally, being agile means being unafraid of failure. Doing agile has none of these qualities because it is all about doing the agile practices, not living the agile principles!
How do you go from doing agile to being agile? You start by understanding the difference. To be fair, most agile teams do agile rather than being agile so keep in mind you are not failing you probably just didn’t know something better is available. Once you understand the difference you can start to rely on the process to self-correct you toward being agile. For example, during the next retrospective ask why the daily standup meeting is a boring status meeting instead of a vibrant exchange of information which helps the team toward success. Perhaps you can ask why the team keeps making the same mistake of not meeting the commitment made during iteration planning (maybe you need to go back to real basics and ask why iteration planning isn’t a commitment at all). It may help to ask if the team is willing to be agile and work toward continuous improvement rather than continuous mediocrity.
Once the questions are asked the team should strive to find some action items which will help them get better in those areas. If the team is truly dedicated to BEING agile rather than DOING agile they will find action items which they can commit to in order to improve. This is the key first step to being agile. Once you have a breakthrough in this area it is very easy to continue being more agile each iteration.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Is it in you and your team to take the first step to go down the path of BEING agile?
Until next time I’ll be Making Agile a Reality® by helping teams BE agile!
This blog entry first appeared as an article in the November 15, 2009 edition of the Weekly PM Insights newsletter.