Being Agile – have a Balanced View!

by Gayathri Daggubati, Agile Coach

Agile is not something you do; Agile is something you are.… “Be Agile.” This phrasing is quite popular, and I’m sure you have heard this before.

But have you ever wondered what it takes to “Be Agile”? If so, this short read is for you.

There are two “equal” aspects that contribute to the state of being Agile – one is the methods and frameworks that Agile offers, and another is the mindset that Agile promotes.

I quoted “equal” because there are still individuals, teams, and organizations who are focusing more on the former aspect, the “practices and processes” that the chosen Agile framework prescribes, and are losing the sight of the latter, the ”values and principles” that actually lead to an Agile growth mindset.

The reasons for this imbalanced view may vary, but what happens when you ignore the values and principles?

Let’s pick a practice — daily huddle, sprint planning, or sprint retrospective. They all introduce an immediate change in your current ways of working, and those who understand the purpose behind each of these practices will see the long term benefits they offer. But what if you are focusing only on the short-term gains? Like having a chance to communicate the progress with your team in the daily huddles, having an opportunity to raise your voice and express your concerns in the retrospectives, setting a super powerful goal for your team in the sprint planning? While these short-term benefits are not less important than the longer term ones, one must not forget that these practices were designed in the first place to support the core values and principles that the Agile inventors believed in and thought would create long-term reliable success for the individuals, teams, customers, and the organizations as a whole.

The real transformation begins when you start mapping each of these practices back to the Agile values and principles. That’s when the same daily huddle becomes more than just a chance to communicate progress with your team, that’s when the retrospective becomes an opportunity to discover your team members perspectives rather than raising your own voice, and the sprint planning becomes an event where you as a team estimate your chances of success instead of trying to set a goal that convinces the customer or the management.

I’m curious, how many Agile practitioners are living the values and principles vs following the practices and processes alone, that any given Agile frameworks like Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban prescribes?

The Authors of Learning Agile, Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene, beautifully explain in their book how teams that try “going Agile” by adopting a lot of great practices end up by having ”Just Better-Than-Not-Doing-It Results”. Teams just following practices with an incompatible mindset may still see improvements immediately (the short-term gains I was referring to above), but will certainly fail to realize the true essence of being Agile. In my view, these results would be very similar to the results that a confidence without clarity produces, which can become a disaster!

On the other hand, without practices, principles are sterile. Think of what happens when you have an Agile compatible mindset already, but don’t have a work environment that encourages suitable practices, one that supports and complements your mindset? There is struggle, there is frustration, less job satisfaction, you name it!

Thus, from an individual to an organization, a continuous and consistent effort has to be made in order to maintain a balanced view towards Agile practices and principles.

I usually compare this balanced view with how one aspires to balance their physical and mental health – the two aspects you would consider to “be healthy”. What happens when you only focus on physical fitness, but not mental health? Self-explanatory, isn’t it! 

Staying principled and adhering to the values by aligning your thoughts, behaviors and actions towards those principles helps to strive and thrive in an Agile environment. And just like being healthy is a continuous journey, being agile is also a journey, BUT not a destination.

SO WHAT YOU DO TO SELF-REMIND, AND HELP MAINTAIN THAT BALANCED VIEW TO ‘BE AGILE’?

Refer to agilemanifesto.org to see the 4 core values and 12 principles of Agile. Please note, each framework (ex: Scrum, Kanban and Scrumban) has its own set of values and principles that one must adhere to.

Agile on, my friends!

Cheers,

Gayathri