December 7, 2016

Agile is a verb, not a noun

Are we there yet? It’s becoming like nails-on-a-chalkboard to hear phrases like “We’re going Agile” or “We’re doing this because it’s agile.” People are putting everything they can under the Agile umbrella, right down to cleaning up your workspace at the end of the day. What does it mean to say you’ve achieved becoming Agile? Is there a t-shirt? A certificate? Are you ordained?

The misconception is that Agile is a thing we can physically touch and become. It’s not… and we can’t. There is no end-state to Agile. It’s a way of thinking – trying to apply learning quicker than you did before. Moving from what was to what could be. It’s a constant state of evolution. You should never become Agile, it should be something you’re always chasing. If you think you’ve ‘caught’ Agile, you’ve already become complacent.


And yet, I’m continuing to see teams pat themselves on the back for ‘becoming Agile’ because they’ve done a few things to change the way they work. Here are just a few examples:


  • Conducting Daily Scrums

  • Building a Scrum board

  • Doing away with documentation

  • Getting rid of hierarchy

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In a previous blog, I touched on some more of the cultural potholes that can kill your mission to embrace agility productively.

How do you keep chasing it then?

We want to make sure we’re always very open, skeptical and critical. We want to challenge what we do, how we do it, and more importantly why. Sometimes being Agile isn’t about doing things faster. Rather, it’s about doing the right things. Instead of saying “Be Agile,” what if we were all just more decisive? Choose what you should build, and deliberately decide what you’re not going to build. For now. Not everything is forever.


We have to be comfortable with continual evolution. Let’s take the first little step, and then pivot. It’s all in how fast we can apply ongoing learning. Agile was meant to reduce analysis paralysis and just do it. There’s no perfect time. Just go. When we’re overthinking it, we’re not doing it. We’re overthinking the things that may never happen. Instead, let’s do and react to the things that have happened. Even if we take one step, we’re still one step ahead.

Counter-intuitive as it may be, decision making is actually more complicated when we only have one decision maker. To make smarter decisions faster, we need to be able to decide who can & should make which decisions, and push decision making as close as possible to the people who are closest to (Or doing) the work. Then, we’re not only giving people experience building great things, but also experience in making decisions. As they progress in their career they’re going to need to be able to confidently make decisions with greater and greater impact. Why not have them practice when the stakes are lower… and at the same time help your team keep moving? As a leader, it’s my job to defer decisions as much as possible to my team, and be available to support those decisions at the last responsible moment. This means the team has taken it as far as they can, and I have all the information I need to get them over the finish line.

If you believe you’ve become Agile, stop and check yourself. Are you still learning and evolving? Is your team making decisions and producing output quickly to feed that learning? Here’s my personal challenge to you: Keep the chase alive.