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Five Stages of Agile Realization

07/05/2013 by Justin Urbanski

Can you remember when you first found out about Agile? How did you feel? What emotions did you go through?
You may have heard of the five stages of grief. I'm not suggesting that the pain of losing a loved one is comparable to realizing Agile. What I have discovered, however, is that the range of emotions is quite similar when you have made the "realization."
My five stages of Agile realization are: Denial - Anger - Bargaining - Acceptance - Awesomeness.

In my case, I went through the first four emotions in a few days. Others may have been told that Agile is the way of the future -- the CTO/CIO or boss may have said, "We are going Agile" -- and for people on this end of the spectrum, it may take years to get to the final stage.
What stage are you in, and what should you do about it?
I was sitting on a train reading Mike Cohn's Agile Estimating and Planning when I started asking myself, "This can't be happening. This goes against everything I know about delivering software." Many people think at this stage, "It won't work! We're doing just fine now." When you're in this stage, try and be patient. Just keep asking questions. Talk to Agilists and get your questions answered. Talk to your colleagues; they might be feeling the same way.
Pretty quickly I became annoyed, because what Mike Cohn was explaining made sense. I was asking myself, "Why does this make sense? Why have I not heard of this Agile thing before?" I was angry at myself for not finding out about Agile sooner. You may be feeling the same way, or you may be angry at someone else for pushing Agile onto you. Try not to get angry at someone else. They may have been through an Agile transition before, so they understand the benefits. Ask this person questions and let them know how you feel.
I actually skipped this stage, because I knew straightaway that Agile made sense. In general, I'm an early adopter. For those on the other end of the spectrum, you may be doing everything possible to not adopt Agile. You may be doing everything possible to avoid Agile even if everyone around you has adopted Agile. What you don't realize is that by not adopting Agile, you may be slowing others down, because they have to work into your process. Again: Talk to your team and others. Get your concerns out into the open; it's better than dropping anti-Agile articles on the lunchroom table. Others may be able to answer your questions, and you may find that it's not as bad as you first thought.
At this stage, you've accepted the need to adopt Agile. You've done lots of reading. You've included others in your organization's Agile journey. You still have lots of questions and things to sort out, but that's OK. Start small, and work through the issues with others. You may want to start an enterprise transition community (see Mike Cohn's book Succeeding with Agile).
At this stage you've probably been drinking the Kool-Aid, and you love the benefits of Agile. However, there's always room for improvement. Keep on learning and keep on improving.
The common theme in each stage is communication. Talk to your colleagues. Be open and discuss your feelings and concerns. Whatever stage you are in on your Agile journey, keep in mind that others have gone through these emotions already and you're not alone.