Agile is Not About Doing

Doing things like Scrum or Kanban Does Not Make You Agile

Eyes Behind Red Curtains On Wood Stage

I’ve come across many people who say they or their company are Agile because they are doing Scrum or Kanban. However, when I dig a little deeper to find out more details, I find a lot of them lacking. I’ve even encountered a few places where they tout they’re doing Agile and using it as recruiting bait. 

They are what has now become a trendy term in the community – Fake Agile. (It seems to be fashionable once again since I’ve seen this wave before back in the early 2000s. As they say in fashion, what goes around comes around.)

What makes them fake? 

For one thing, they’re only doing the motions. “Oh, yeah, we have two-week iterations.” “Yes, we meet every day at the stand-up.” “Oh yes, we do sprint planning.” And it just ends there. When I try to see the wizardry going on behind that curtain, I am aghast to find that they haven’t released or much less tested anything. And yet they say they are “doing two-week iterations.” Honestly, a lot of the times, they’re doing a bastardized version of Spiral – an iterative version of Waterfall.

Doing these things doesn’t make you Agile, in the same way that my brushing on some watercolors on paper doesn’t make me a painter.

Practices and Rituals Don’t Make You Agile

Guess what – there are many companies out there who aren’t doing Scrum or Kanban. And yet, they seem to be very Agile. They constantly experiment, pivot, release, and react quickly. Google comes to mind, having worked there previously. Most of the teams in there don’t do anything like Scrum or Kanban. A lot of the time, there’s little or no formal process or mechanism. And yet, they seem to be agile enough, responding to the ever-changing landscape and dominating various sectors of the industry.

A Definition of Agile?

Agile is all about having many feedback loops and getting feedback as quickly as possible. It’s about rapidly reacting to input and stimuli, and swiftly working to release what your customer needs immediately. 

These loops come in many forms – from your customers’ complaints to your business; from when engineering lets your marketing team know what’s releasing this week, all the way to your marketing and sales teams leveraging that information immediately with current and potential new customers.

How you do things doesn’t matter. Technically, you don’t necessarily need to have a cadence (although it helps). Instead, it’s about getting things out as fast as possible based on input, stimuli, or feedback. You can be using Spiral, which I had mentioned earlier, and still be Agile (and yes, I’ve seen it done).  

With software, it’s getting it out daily, if need be – as I’ve done in a few start-ups that I had worked in previously. If you’re in other industries like Pharmaceuticals, it might take a couple of years. I learned about this from a friend recently. If Pharmaceuticals can cut down the drug development time from 10 years, then that’s Agile for their context. We are starting to see this right now with the current pandemic and efforts to find a vaccine.

Agile is About Being, Not Doing

Being Agile has a lot to do with your context. Ask yourself – are you, your team, and your business genuinely Agile doing these practices and rituals? What does it currently take for your business to react and then release? And if you find you’re taking too long, challenge yourself – can you and your business respond and release quicker? What can your business do to make this the new reality?

In the end, you can sum it up and ask – why are you accepting the current status quo?


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