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Being Agile versus Doing Agile

‘Agile’ has become a buzzword over the last several years, but many organizations fail at Agile implementations. There are reasons galore but one of the main reasons is that they think Agile is just another process or a framework, which is not.

What is Agile?

A process may be defined as a sequence of steps with a specific input and an expected output. Agile doesn’t give any steps to execute. A framework is a container of bare minimum practices, into which one can add their own practices as well. Agile doesn’t provide any practices to follow. So, what is Agile then?

Agile is a mindset – based on a set of value and principles. One cannot do Agile. One can only be Agile. When introducing Agile to an organization, the organization needs to cultivate an Agile mindset; and not just processes or tools or a set of practices given by a framework.

The Agile mindset

The Agile mindset refers to the attitude and behavior to be displayed by the employees, teams, various departments, management, senior leadership, customers, users etc. It is a combined synergy that transforms from the current way of working to an Agile way of thinking and working.

In addition to focusing on the improvement and learning cycle, an organization should focus on mutual respect, collaboration, and the ability to adapt to change.

Being Agile and Doing Agile: The difference

While most organizations have adopted the Agile approach, the teams are still stuck between either being Agile or doing Agile. The difference between the two might seem negligible; it is actually quite enormous. Let’s take a look.

  • Being Agile: Being Agile is more about who we are. It has more to do with the organizational culture, consciousness, and thinking of the team. Being Agile is about how the team perceives itself, relates to other teams, what it values, and how it behaves.
  • Doing Agile: Doing Agile focuses on practices, procedures, jargon, tools and daily rituals. Doing things the Agile way ensures the given work is done on-time and in a systematic manner.

Organizations embrace Agile to solve an immediate problem. However, that may not yield sustainable results, as long as the thinking is not transformed. The organizations and teams need to first develop a culture of long-term Agility.

The Agile Manifesto

The Agile Manifesto was written in 2001, by a group of 17 thought leaders. Realizing that a traditional way of working is no longer a sustainable model in the ever-changing world, they embarked on the following manifesto:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Principles behind the Agile Manifesto:

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery
    of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

7 ways to cultivate an Agile mindset

A team needs to be Agile on the habitual and personal level. Here are a few steps to embed an Agile mindset throughout the culture of the company.

Look at failure as a learning opportunity:

One of the major aspects of Agile is that your product develops, improves, and evolves as time goes on. This means if a Sprint fails, it should be perceived as there is more room for improvement, and it only can get better.

Two key aspects to consider about failure:

  • Fail fast, learn faster.
  • Fail today rather than at the end.

Welcome different perspectives:

A Development Team should strive to become self-organizing and cross-functional. Be ready to work with different perspectives, different backgrounds, yet towards a single product vision created by the Product Owner and aligned with the stakeholders, users etc.

The workplace should be sustainable:

The ScrumMaster should help the teams and the organization set a suitable pace that is sustainable. Unfinished items and late turnovers indicate that the expectations are too high, or the skills are not sufficient, or there are too many changes induced within the Sprints. If there are early finishes, it means that the teams are not appropriately challenged, and there is more room to accept. Either of the situations require to introspect during the Sprint Retrospectives, and suitably move forward so that the speed is sustainable in a longer run.

Adapt to change:

The team members should be open to adapt change. Cultivate more of open thinking rather than fixed thinking – be it requirements scope, timelines, changes, budget, release timelines, user preferences. Everything evolves based on what the market needs, not as per what the organization wants to develop.

Transparency:

The Agile mindset requires the team members and organization to be transparent with work. Both the progress and problems should be made visible to whoever is required to know. Hiding under the mat will only make matters worse towards the end. Promote a culture where people are ready to give the ‘bad news’ first and also submit to thinking of alternative solutions.

Promote ‘safe’ environment:

The organization must assure that being open about progress and problems, will still provide a ‘safe’ environment and that no one is being judged.

The Scrum values – Focus, Openness, Respect Courage and Commitment are not only for the teams, but for the entire organization including the managers and senior stakeholders.

Embrace ‘Coaching’ as a way to solve problems:

The ScrumMaster, Agile Coach, managers and senior stakeholders should use ‘Coaching’ as a means to solve problems and induce continuous improvement.

Conclusion

Various companies fail to derive the desired results from the Agile values and principles because they apply them incorrectly. In order to successfully cultivate an Agile way of working, all the members involved should adopt the ‘Being’ and not just ‘Doing’ aspects of Agile. These members include not just the Scrum Team – ScrumMaster, Development Team, Product Owner, but the entire organization.

References

  1. www.agilemanifesto.org
  2. Scrum Guide from www.ScrumGuides.org
  3. https://medium.com/@Intersog/how-being-agile-is-different-from-doing-agile-9098e8b679f1
  4. https://www.infoq.com/articles/what-agile-mindset/
  5. https://www.agile-scrum.be/agile-software-development/agile-mindset/

About the Author:

The author, Suresh Konduru, is a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) certified by Scrum Alliance, and is based out of Hyderabad, India. He has more than 22 years of working experience in Fortune 500 companies globally.

He conducts workshops for Scrum Alliance flagship certifications such as Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO). These are interactive zero Power-Point sessions conducted across Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Kochi and other cities in India; as well as in USA, Europe, APAC regions. Suresh uses real-world examples, group learning activities to make the workshops learning as well as fun. Trained more than 7000 students globally, rated consistently 4.8 out of 5 across 250 workshops.

Suresh also consults for Fortune 500 organizations in product development, Agile transformation and change management initiatives.

Suresh runs ‘ASK’ program – a lifelong free mentoring program for his students registered through PremierAgile.

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