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What does it mean to be Agile?

~ Authored by Mindy Lenderink & Joe Knape

Agile man dancing while spinning fire torches.

What do you think about being Agile? Does it bring an image to mind? Some people think Agile is so great that it is the answer to every problem that needs solving. Other people wonder what the excitement is about because Agile is not a differentiator in their organization.

For every extreme opinion, there are many opinions somewhere in the middle. Why is there such variance in opinions? How do you make Agile work for you?

Doing Agile vs. Being Agile

When an organization first decides to move from traditional development to Agile development, the focus is often on doing Agile. The surface changes that need to happen when implementing Agile are the focus.

Small Agile teams form, a new open workspace is set up, a backlog of user stories is ready, and Agile meetings begin. When the mechanics are in place, they are Agile. Right?


While it is important to put an Agile framework in place, there is much more involved in Agile success. Going through the motions of Agile behavior alone won’t cut it.

The ultimate goal of Agile is being Agile. This requires a cultural change to support the framework of a learning organization. Traditional roles and authority structures must change, and concepts like planning and change control need to adapt. But even more than this, you first need to understand the scope of IT Agility.

IT Agility Defined

An important distinction about being Agile is that it builds on a foundation of IT Agility. If that foundation is not in place, your Agile initiative cannot succeed at the scale you are hoping for.

Like Lean before it and TPS before that, IT Agility results in an unobstructed flow of value to the customer. Achieving flow starts with taking a look at your processes with a critical eye. All work and behaviors that block your ability to provide value are candidates for removal.

When you remove everything that blocks or delays progress, the result is tighter, sequenced events. These events create flow toward your customers, whether they are end users of a product, end users of a service, or another group within the company.

While it may be hard to hear, anything that does not contribute value is waste, including people. For example, the people on your team either add value or they do not. Move everyone to the add-value side or help them find a position that matches their skills better.

Agile Culture

To be Agile, organizations also need to change their culture. For example, there are critical management changes to make as well as team leadership roles to assign – Product Owner, Technical Lead, Agile Project Manager, and so on. This is where the cultural shift begins. It does not matter what title you give these roles. It is only important that these roles exist.

Can your managers let go of control and become leaders? Can your team leaders teach and serve the team? These are the first decisions to nail down.

The information you gather before you begin your Agile transformation allows you to assess your organization’s appetite for change. Are there behaviors that you cannot change? What is the relative cost of deviating from recommended Agile behaviors?

If your culture is too locked down to the way things have always been, Agile might not be for you. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that up front?

To Agile and Beyond

After you decide that your organization’s culture can adapt to the changes required to go Agile, the fun can begin. Creating a solution that fits your organization requires a thorough understanding of the various Agile practices available. One size never fits all so it is important to encourage and engage the right mix of people, processes, technologies, and behaviors.

Another key action is to explain what your teams must do now, as Agile team members, and why these changes are important. Help them understand what’s in it for them. People who understand the value of change are more likely to embrace the change. This is the beginning of being Agile.

When you have buy-in to the Agile changes, success is right around the corner, but keep pushing flexibility. Agile practices position your organization to increase productivity and customer satisfaction. Going Agile is the first step in the path of continuous improvement and increasing market share.

The ultimate goal of Agile is being Agile. This requires a cultural change to support the framework of a learning organization.

Mindy Lenderink, PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, @mindylenderink on twitter, is a consultant in infoedge's information Technology Excellence practice and has over 15 years of experience helping organizations transform. While her expertise and interests are wide ranging, she finds herself drawn to human capital management, coaching, and the successful application of Agile principles.

Joe Knape, @joeknape on twitter, is a Director at infoedge. With over 20 years of experience in information technology, coaching, and mentoring, Joe recognizes that change is hard. He has a passion for improving his clients’ condition by helping them uncover what changes create the biggest impact and to do more with less by driving out waste and increasing efficiency with their IT investments. Joe specializes in Lean, Lean IT, Agile, DevOps, and beyond.


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