What’s agile?

Maybe you are not aware but “agile” is everyone mouth mostly when your activities have a huge IT part (like most) when you are in banking, insurance, telecommunication, digital, etc…

I´m an agile coach since over a decade and I tried this exercise to explain what it means to my youngest daughter, and it was tough.  Then I candidly asked that question to well known experienced agile coaches in a special non-intrusive or manipulative manner called Clean Language Question: what kind of agile is your agile? Here are some of the answers:

“Agile is about the correct mindset between new patterns adoption and anti-patterns unlearning.”

“My Agile is not about Software development (not only). It is about moving from command and control position to light transparent adaptative and empowering model.”

“What’s the least we can do and still build great software?” That is my Agile.

“In my book you’re not a professional anything unless you can and do tell the people who pay you that they don’t need your services. We walk into teams full of hammers and all they want to talk about is how to pound the 47 different kinds of nails they’ve bought. That’s not the right focus.”

… and more in that order.

Then I changed my audience. Like in this post, I asked the question “what kind of agile is your agile?” before explaining what agile means. Here are the results:

  • this question has been asked to most of the team (around 70 people) before explaining what agile means
  • quantitative means that agile is seen as results

  • behaviour means that agile is how people are interacting together

  • process, agile is understood like a process or a methodology

  • bypass, people didn´t answered the question due to communication issues or lack of focus

  • Quantitative answers are:
    • fast visible results
    • quick wins
    • deliver quickly
    • quality
    • technical excellence
    • workable software
    • rapid customer satisfaction
    • understanding that agile is more time consuming than previous methodologies
    • seeing results and not just work in progress
    • opportunities instead of limitations
    • working on a topic which produces value
  • Behaviour-related answers are:
    • flexibility
    • pragmatic
    • mindset
    • adaptability
    • No
    • responsibility
    • multiple competencies
    • client oriented
    • putting me in the shoes of my customer to gain a clear vision of his needs
    • have interaction with customers or users
    • better collaboration
    • business & development working together
    • teamwork
    • close collaboration
    • will empower us to work and share experiences
    • trustful collaboration with project members
    • fully dedicated, I have the feeling that I am moving with
    • motivation
    • happy and satisfied
    • consistency of projects
    • working on topics which fit my skills
    • simplicity
    • meetings, not that often
    • sustainability
    • welcome change
    • challenges instead of problems
    • challenging and exciting tasks with own responsibility and decision power
  • Process-oriented answers:
    • methodology
    • DevOps
    • feedback
    • daily statuses
    • time to market
    • individual and interactions over processes and tools
    • workable functionalities overextended documentation
    • collaboration with the customer over contract-based relations
    • incremental product
    • well defined roles within the agile team
  • bypassing the question
    • needs to be appropriated and adapted
    • still at the beginning
    • somehow agile
    • good to see that SAP is putting focus and hoping in agile
    • what is the agile best practice?
    • currently more ad-hoc instead of agile
    • missing flexibility in daily work
    • a lot of meetings with “wrong” people
    • additional projects
    • status meetings needed

The Gallup company made an interesting research called “The Real Future of Work” highlighting some interesting points related to agility:

In their publication, the “Path to agility” is described as:

  1. “Speed and efficiency
    1. constantly make every job and process as simple as possible
    2. use technology to get more done in less time
    3. remove the unnecessary bureaucracy to decision making
  2. Freedom to experiment
    1. determine the necessary risks and acceptable failures
    2. help every person feel they should contribute to innovation
  3. Communication and collaboration
    1. breakdown silos between teams and departments
    2. create opportunities to innovate”

Gallup summarized the feedback on these employees as :

  • “In my company, we have the right tools and processes to respond quickly to business needs”
  • “In my company, we have the right mindset to respond to business needs.”

What means the right mindset?

  • “to learn to be wrong
  • to make working together expected and easy
  • “matrixed” doesn´t mean “agile”
  • Agile organisations are grounded in strong, customer-centric cultures 
  • one of the most powerful advantages fo agile companies is the ability to give employees a sense of optimism about the organisation´s capacity to survive – and thrive – amid disruptive marketplace conditions.”

What distinguishes agile organisations?



Agile is an organisation as a safe-to-fail container allowing collaborative work between agents (people, stakeholders, shareholders, partners) in order to respond to changing requirements from the market and their environment. This organisation is a sensemaking system, a complex adaptive system, driving to emergent behaviour and innovation. Unless a command-and-control system, the agile system considers all stakeholders as assets and it cares to ensure enough space to unleash their full potential.

Published by PierreENeis

Certified Agile Coach & Trainer, Organization Developer & Advisor

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