What is Agile?

The word “Agile” refers to a type of method for getting work done.  It’s all about doing valuable work with speed and quality.  An Agile team delivers finished work frequently while working at a sustainable pace.  Agile process consists of short iterations of work that deliver small increments of potentially shippable customer value.  Frequent delivery ensures visibility of the work of the team, as well as its needs and obstacles, to all stakeholders.

Agile refers to a discipline defined as the middle way of excellence between chaos and bureaucracy.  Agile also refers to the philosophy that humans do work in a complex world.

Although Agile has emerged out of endemic crisis in the software development sector (but not exclusive to it!) – mainly caused by the pressure built up from the strata of systemic dishonesty and distrust – it is not a software development process methodology.  Rather, it is a system of learning that challenges deep cultural assumptions and catalyzes change in an organization.

Agile methods are made of processes, principles and tools.  But most importantly they are concerned with people.  Therefore, Truthfulness is the foundation of success in an Agile organization.

Although Agile cannot force people to be truthful, it reveals the direct consequences of opacity in an organization, confronts it and challenges it to change.

Agile prioritizes by value, not “dependency”.  In fact, Agile teams are expected to break dependencies and are empowered by such challenges.  Agile teams self-organize their own work –  they are not “managed resources”.  Agile is team-focused rather than project-focused.  Agile responds to evolving requirements and avoids frozen requirements.  In an Agile environment change is embraced as natural and healthy, rather than as something “risky” to be avoided.

In short, Agile is about overcoming fear, both on the part of individuals as well as collectively and culturally on the part of organizations.

As with any sincere effort to overcome habitual fear, Agile work is hard work.  Becoming Agile can be an uncomfortable, confusing and frustrating process and can remain that way for a long time.

Agile is the art of the possible.  It’s methods are idealistic, not dogmatic.  Agile is about learning, adapting and striving for the ideal.  Agile is based in reality – it relies on everyone to be truthful about the possible and to contribute honestly towards customer value.

Therefore, Agile requires a constructive and positive attitude.  In an Agile environment, a state of crisis is an embraced opportunity to learn and improve.

An Agile team is empowered by its responsibility to self-organize.  On an Agile team, people work together towards a common goal and coordinate their work amongst themselves.  There are no managers or bosses on Agile teams.  Correspondingly, no member of an Agile team reports to a boss or a manager.  All team members report to the team.  While working on a team, everyone checks their institutional titles, roles and responsibilities at the door.  All members of an Agile team are responsible for one thing: contributing as much customer value as possible to the work of the team.

Agile exposes the true character of an organization’s culture and forces visibility on all levels.

At Berteig Consulting, we practice Agile.  I am currently working in the role of Process Facilitator for our core team of 4.  We work in 1-week iterations.  As a couple of the team members have a 4-day work week, we have our Retrospective on Monday mornings at 10 AM, followed by the Planning Meeting for our next iteration at 11 AM.  The remaining work days begin with a daily stand-up meeting using the reporting methods of the Daily Scrum (each member reports 3 things to the team – “What I did yesterday”, What I’m doing today”, and “What are my obstacles”).  We work in a collocated team room, with product backlog items, iteration backlog tasks, obstacles, definition of done and a burn-down chart all up on the walls.  We are currently in our fourth iteration of our current project (which, in this case, is the business itself!).  As part of our retrospectives, team members actually demo finished work – i.e., Mishkin shows us some of the great changes he’s made to his course materials and Paul demos the latest edition of our beautiful newsletter (the one you’re reading right now!).  Laila has even demoed some travel tools that she’s been working on for the coaches and trainers.  We also decided to each write our reflections in order to share them with those who might find it useful as a way of wrapping up the retrospective for this iteration.

Agile can be implemented anywhere people do work together.  Visibility of work, openness of consultation and a strong collaborative spirit feeds an overall feeling of excitement and optimism on an Agile team.  Clear goals based on small pieces of prioritized value and sustainability of work ensure quality and speed of productivity.  But of course, in order for a team to build up these capabilities, it must establish, maintain and defend a firm and immovable foundation of truthfulness.

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