software development

That’s Not Agile!

TL;DR People spend a lot of time arguing whether things are ‘Agile’ or not. ‘Agile’ has become the tail wagging the dog and asking that question misses the point. The question we should be asking is “Does X help us (or our client) achieve the outcomes they desire?”

I recently spoke at a community meetup on the topic Agile Release Trains: Agile, or not so much?. The talk had 2 parts, the first explaining what Agile Release Trains are; the second part discussing whether the question But is it Agile? is a useful question to ask. In my previous post (What is ‘Agile’), I discussed my current interpretation of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and what I believe ‘Agile’ means.

I no longer believe that there is much value in discussing whether something, e.g. Agile Release Trains, is Agile or not. The term ‘Agile’ has become a misnomer, a red herring. It has become the tail wagging the dog. In his Agile Africa 2015 Keynote, Kent Beck used the analogy of dogs and small children looking at the pointed finger, instead of what the finger is pointing at, to describe Agile. Alistair Cockburn, another Manifesto signatory has launched his own ‘new branding’: Heart of Agile. I assume this was because he was frustrated by what Agile had become.

Agile has become a goal in its own right, and has moved away from its origins as a guideline for a way of operating. Instead of asking “does this help me (or my client) achieve the outcomes we seek?”, we’re so caught up in debating what agile is or isn’t, and spend a lot of time in No True Scotsmen arguments.

Who cares if its agile? Are we moving in the direction of continuous improvement or not? Do we even know what continuous improvement means for us in our context? What would imrovement look like? How would we measure it? Would we know it if it bit us in the backside? The next time you hear, or say, “That’s Not Agile!”, stop. Ask yourself what’s really being said and why.

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that any operating model that follows the 4 value statements described in the Manifesto is, by definition, agile.


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