What is Agile?: My Personal View

Posted on May 14, 2011

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The most popular buzzword in software development is most certainly ‘Agile.’  With this popularity comes many profiteers looking to sell it and equally as many companies making very poor, counterproductive attempts to achieve it.  This sad state has caused many to become extremely skeptical of Agile itself, based on these poor implementations that claim agility, but are really nothing more than chaos and heroics under a cloak of the latest buzzword.  I have also seen plenty of implementations that retain most of the traditional processes, practices, tollgates, and artifacts but claim to be Agile based on the weak adoption of a couple of ‘Agile Practices;’ the most common of which are the Daily Stand-up and the Sprint.  This leads me to attempt to define Agile as I see it.

For me, Agile is about the culture.  It is not a set of processes and practices that must be adhered to.  The culture that Agile promotes is meant to bring intelligent, hard-working individuals, that take pride in their work, together to support their customer’s needs.  This brings me back to the attempts to define the very essence of Agile.  The most widely known and accepted guidelines are the Agile Manifesto, the Principles behind the Agile Manifesto, and the Declaration of Interdependence.  I see each of these as an attempt to create a picture of an Agile culture.  The values that guide us, the principles that direct us, and the results that we strive to achieve.

So, if Agile is all about culture, why do we need these methodologies and frameworks?  Well, as it turns out, the culture defined above has been around far longer than the publicized guidelines.  Those that have been living the culture have discovered that following certain frameworks and adopting certain practices and processes allows you to leverage this culture to generate extraordinary results.  At least I hope that’s how it happened 🙂  This leads us to an explanation as to why the most successful adopters of Agile do not rigidly adhere to any one mainstream method, but have created their own flavor of them through their adoption process.

In my experience, if you focus solely on the methodology and ignore the cultural aspect, you will see mediocre results at best.  If Agile has taught me anything, it has taught me that people are the key to success, not process.

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Posted in: Agile Methods