Mastering Agile Work

Not everyone will master the techniques of Agile. Mastery of any discipline takes much more than reading a few books and taking a few courses. Here’s my take on mastery…


Mastery of any discipline depends on four conditions:

1. Will. If you have the will to master a discipline, you will put in the effort required.

2. Assistance. Mastery requires an environment which supports the learning process. The learning opportunities available must fit with your personal learning style.

3. Constraints. In order to truly master a discipline, the process of mastery must include dealing with constraints and other challenges. Learning from failure is just as important as learning from success.

4. Opportunity. A person must have the time or the ability to free the time to work on mastering a discipline. The amount of time necessary depends on one’s starting point in personal capabilities.

Mastering Agile Work

Mastering a discipline takes more than just learning the practice and being able to do it well. There are in total four components to a discipline that need to be accounted for:

1. Theory. Agile Work theory includes Lean and queueing theory, adult education, organizational learning, systems theory, and economics. Understanding this theory allows a person to extend their mastery of Agile into unfamiliar situations.

2. Practice. The practice of Agile Work has simple basics, but includes a vast array of combinations, minor practices, and disfunctional practices to be avoided. Experience actually trying, failing and succeeding at a majority of these practices is necessary for mastery.

3. History. Understanding how Agile evolved, who were the leaders in the field, and various anecdotes about Agile implementations are critical for being able to link our own activities into a larger community. This larger community allows us to understand the constraints of Agile, and provides a peer group to share with and learn from. Mastery can only be ongoing in a historical context.

4. Criticism. No person can grow in their understanding of a discipline without also understanding how to do critical reflection of one’s own work and the work of others. Fortunately for those interested in Agile, this process of critical reflection is built into the Agile process and practices to a large degree.

Call to Action

The vast majority of current discussion in the Agile community is around practices and focused on software development specifically. There is only a little work being done in the Theory, History and Criticism aspects of the discipline. In order to become a fully respected discipline, all aspects need to be given appropriate weight.

Those of you who consider yourselves masters of the Agile practices, can you see yourselves investigating these other aspects? The question “why?” is just as important, if not more so, than the question “how?” Let’s investigate these wonderful methods of ours.


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