Agile vs. Agile

“Agile Development” has been a buzz term for quite a while, but people still manage to use it incorrectly.  When somebody comes to talk to you or your team and says “I think we need to be more agile”, it is always important to ask them what they really mean and make sure that they actually do mean “we” and not “you”.  Why does that matter?  What’s the difference?  Agile is good, right?

Well, not necessarily.  First off, lets define what Agile Development is.  If you ask any six pundits, you would probably get six different answers, but in general I don’t think anyone would disagree with:

Agile development is an iterative and collaborative approach to software development that allows teams to respond to changing demands of the business.

I am intentionally leaving it simple and leaving out things like how much process is needed / not needed, and what types of deliverables are required to avoid arguments and stick to the basics.  Anyway, that makes sense, who could disagree with that?

Plenty of people.  First off, let’s just state that agile development isn’t the right fit for every situation and not worry about why it might or might not be (that’s a topic that has been covered many times already).  The issue here is discerning what someone means when they say “we need to be more agile”.

There have been many times when the “uninitiated” project manager or company leader makes this statement, and what they really mean is that “you need to be able to respond to my every whim”.  O….kay.  That is one definition of agile, I suppose.  This manager hears agile and thinks, gosh, I really could get everything I want exactly when I want it, agile is about the team being able to respond to my every request.  Don’t laugh, there are plenty of people that think this, and why not, it actually has been the state of development for a long time.

This interpretation of agile only provides for one set of changing behaviors – that of the development team.  Agile behavior goes way beyond the development team, it needs to create change in an all-inclusive team that is composed of not only the development team, but those very managers and other stakeholders such as QA, Operations, and customers (internal and external).  A real agile development process touches everyone.  Agile is about everyone sharing the pain and the gain all together.  Agile is not about a couple of developers responding to issues whenever they arise, it is about the entire group understanding what is important and each taking a stake in the success of the delivery of whatever the end results may be.  Agile is about creating behaviors that lead to trust across an organization through predictability.

When everyone works together and takes responsibility for prioritizing what needs to get done and continuously communicates not just progress, but all apects of the work being done, the end result is more predictable and there are not any big surprises.  Predictability and trust are important – those are the cornerstones that help information flow throughout the collective group and provide the building blocks for everyone to not only appear successful, but actually be successful.

So, when someone comes to you to talk about agility, make sure you know what they mean, and if they don’t quite get the true meaning, gently give them a push in the right direction.