Agile is a journey

More than one person has said that “Agile is a journey not a destination.” But that has been brought home to me more than once in recent days. What, I have to ask, do people mean when they proudly state “We are agile”?

Does it mean they are following an agile method? If so, how strictly? Does it have to be 100%? If a team say they are an XP team but they don’t integrate more than once a day rather than every check-in, does that mean they are not agile? What if a Scrum team has an additional role or two to add to the three formal roles that the method defines? Are they no longer agile either?

What, then, does “agile” mean? At what point along the journey do you have the right to call yourself “agile”?

I am currently measuring the extent to which project teams in my own organisation are adhering to the basic Atern practices, and have been surprised by the lack of consistency, despite a majority having done Practitioners training. To some people here who have worked in other companies, we are not agile at all. Others who have seen us deliver release after release of valuable software on a regular and frequent basis with minimal resulting production defects, say that of course we are an agile organisation.

Of course surveys are by no means a perfect way of measuring anything, but they are better than nothing. I am planning on using the results to target more focussed, role-based, modular training, along with a coaching program that will help teams understand why we advocate these practices, and helping them get round the obstacles. Some teams, for instance, check-in, build and deploy daily with rapid testing turn-around; others don’t complete testing in the same timebox. Is either more or less agile than the other? Is that a fair thing to say, because it assumes agility is measurable?

Someone once told me that you should not be measuring agility but rather the benefits you get from it. She has a point, but there are a lot of other things that influence business value and determining a direct correlation to agile practices is, I think, exceedingly difficult. What we can do is agree that specific practices give some quantifiable benefit in terms of quality, speed to market or some other measure, then measure how well and consistently we undertake that practice as well as the level of quality and how long it takes to get to market. But can you measure how well we do stand-ups for instance? Perhaps not, but you can conduct a survey that asks whether people think their stand-up provides their team with some value. Even better, you can get a coach to show them how to get the most benefit from them.

Perhaps it’s just a mindset thing, though. Perhaps if you are just doing what your boss says you should be doing, then you don’t ‘get it’ and you can’t claim to be agile. Perhaps it takes the right mindset. A mindset that says “we understand what this is about, we may not be doing everything perfectly, but we know what we are not good at and we are determined to improve.”

The first step in that process is highlighting the strengths and weaknesses. We have plenty of both.

About aterny

Agile enthusiast and evangelist, DSDM practitioner, trainer and coach. Specialist in Agile project and programme management, governance and organisational transformation
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