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Let's Stop "Adopting" Agile and Start Becoming Agile

Agility that makes you happy

25 July 2014

Ashok Singh
Simple Agile Corp

The Agile community must be held accountable for guiding organizations into believing that Agile is something that they can just do, adopt, or buy.

Perform a quick search on any search engine for "Agile adoption" and you will find many of today's Agile thought leaders selling Agile like a scam diet pill as seen on Dr. Oz. Selling agility in a box, Agile adoption, is not only untenable but indicates a lack of clarity about what Agile is, by both those championing agility and by the enterprises who need agility to survive in today's competitive business environment.

Agility is not something that a person or organizations can "do" or "adopt." It certainly is not something that can be bought. Agilists would be better off moving away from representing Agile as a commodity and moving toward promoting Agile as a characteristic, ability, or a state of being. If we continue shepherding Agile down the current commodity road, it will inevitably lead to cargoism -- Agile cargo cults who will look for redemption in an "Agile-failed-us" attitude rather than taking responsibility for the fact that they are the ones who ultimately failed at becoming Agile. Remember, we do not adopt Agile, we become Agile.

To make our point crystal clear, take a moment to think about how an organization becomes an industry leader or, better yet, how an individual becomes happy. An individual does not "do" or "adopt" happiness to become happy. To become happy, a person must stop doing the things that make them unhappy, and ultimately work toward changing their environment and behavior. The road to happiness, even with the best Google search results, does not include an "adoption of happiness" lane. The same is true for Agile.

Becoming Agile

Agility is not a business-imposed process that can be mastered. Agility is not a methodology for you to use to evaluate your excellence, and it is not a recipe for success to be preserved or savored. Agility, like happiness, is a state of being in which you and your team can explore unfathomed potential in a focused, dedicated, and effective manner. Agility requires discipline, perseverance, and persistent improvement in your ability to think, collaborate, and excel. It is an incremental improvement course, a gradual evolution in our thought, action, and spirit that aligns closely with the human motivation to achieve self-esteem or self-actualization. Agility is about breaking the shackles of conventional wisdom, encouraging critical thinking, and expanding your consciousness. Agile is not up for adoption; it is free and available to all who desire to survive, thrive, and win. However, the road to becoming Agile is not easy and is often full of wrong-way traffic and a weak Agile GPS signal.

Agility is not defined through the adoption of Agile ceremonies, practices, or frameworks. Agile ceremonies and practices found within frameworks are well crafted to promote and accelerate agility. They are means to achieve agility without potential waste and are not meant to be dogmatic or followed religiously. The value gained from adopting Agile frameworks, ceremonies, and practices is delivered through positive human factor outcomes associated with heightened communication, empowerment, and safety.

The lifeblood of Agility

Communication is the lifeblood of agility. Humans are social and they value good communication to disseminate information, critical thinking to help the team brainstorm solutions during a challenging time, tactful communication to avoid distractions, and listening skills to open channels to build great relationships. They love to interact and get recognized by society. Effective Agile communications promote oneness over otherness, and that means that we need to communicate, and communicate well.

Effective face-to-face communication is a critical accelerator to becoming Agile. Face-to-face communication is fast, effective, and develops critical relationships. When you communicate face to face, your nonverbal cues convey more than your words. Your body language, grimaces, tone, style, and pitch all combine to give a human touch to the words you express. Those words are more meaningful, make more sense, and build the platform for successful communication. Having said volumes about face-to-face communication, Agile does not discount the usability and effectiveness of other forms of communication. Agility allows you to choose the right form of communication, and if documentation is the preferred choice, so be it if it adds the best possible value to your project.

Shared purpose

The benefits of an empowered workforce include a sense of shared purpose, loyalty, and increased collaboration. In an Agile environment, empowered people work together and do what it takes to get the job done. An empowered team is more engaged, performs better, and is more productive. An organization cannot go out and buy or adopt empowered teams; they must fundamentally change the culture through top-down empowerment buy-in. Managing empowered teams is an oxymoron; an empowered workforce will self-organize and self-direct their actions to deliver against clear business objectives better than will a managed team.

What happens in Vegas . . .

Safety is one of the basic needs of humans. People feel appreciated in a safe, harmonious environment and unleash their true potential. Creating a safe environment, one where an individual can have some autonomy and express her thoughts openly, is another pillar for building trust among team members. Multiple disciplines with potentially divergent (conflicting) perspectives, needs, goals, and experiences require their members to feel safe in conducting open communication, expressing their feelings, presenting their ideas for improvement, and reaching consensus. An Agile culture blossoms only after safety is realized by the team members and is marked by healthy communication and togetherness among a wonderful mix of persons, preferences, and power. The Agile retrospective (debrief), the engine of agility and the single most important Agile ceremony, is only effective when team members feel safe. Safety in the Agile retrospective enables the group to release tension, increase honest communication, and ultimately inspire each other toward a state of higher performance

A happy connection

To summarize, Agile is not up for adoption. Becoming Agile requires a commitment to changing your environment and behavior. The value added from adopting Agile frameworks, ceremonies, and practices is delivered through communication, empowerment, and safety. Arguably, these three basic human needs are quite possibly the same things that could make you happy.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.7 (3 ratings)


Tim Baffa, CSM, 7/25/2014 11:05:22 AM
Excellent points. Appreciate the analogy between "agile" and "happiness". Thanks.
Victor Bonacci, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 8/4/2014 3:58:28 PM
Ashok & Brian,
I couldn't be more aligned with your points. At every opportunity, I replace "adoption" with "transformation" when speaking with others, subtly nudging the tone of the conversation.

"Adoption" implies Agile is a noun, something to have or a process to do. Binary - either we have/do it or we don't. On the other hand, when we say "transform" we mean to a state, an adjective. There is a continuum now, a range of agile-ness. Perfection is the goal, but any step along the path could mean an improvement. Incrementalism.

I believe the debasement of the word "Agile" has been both intentional and accidental. Intentional by those of us trying to make a buck (and is anyone completely innocent?) - anything from applying for a job to selling primo consulting gigs and tools. Accidental in the way that we seek to find shorthand in all our modern communications - here I blame social media ;)

Going back a few months, Dave Thomas wrote his "Agile id Dead (Long Live Agility)" post ( which aligns quite well with your article, imo. He argues the same point: Agile vs Agility. Similar to adopting vs becoming.

In the end, it goes beyond language. As you say, it's the mindset. Being vigilant of the words we use is a full time job. Changing the frame from which we seek to be understood seems to be the easy part.
Johnny Ordonez, CSP,CSD,CSM,CSPO, 8/8/2014 1:05:57 PM
Excellent article!
Samir Umrikar, CSM, 8/27/2014 6:50:48 AM
Excellent Article. for Being Agile, we need to "Unlearn" many things in conventional IT industry.
Deepak Joshi, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 10/21/2014 1:20:29 PM
I agree with Victor for replacing 'adoption' with 'transformation'.
Focus of this article on understanding agility rather than being coached is really important. However I have a different opinion on one point under the heading- What happens in Vegas . . .(The Agile retrospective (debrief), the engine of agility and the single most important Agile ceremony).
In my view each and every ceremony has its one significance and importance. Each activity is equally important at it's own place.

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