Why You Need to Shift Your Team from “Agil-ish” to Agile [+Webinar]

Group of Employees Smiling in Background with "How to Adopt True Agile Values" Written as an Overlay

To learn more in-depth about how to adapt Agile values and become more effective at delighting your customers, watch our on-demand webinar, How Teams and Leaders Can Unleash the Power of Agile.

The evidence is all around us that there’s more lip service given to Agile than action. Or in some cases, there’s action, but more action than understanding.

One of my colleagues who does technical due diligence for private equity investors tells me he had to revise his initial questionnaire when it comes to Agile. When he asked teams if they were Agile, every single answer was, yes. But from subsequent drill-down questions, it became clear that organizations had little understanding of what being Agile actually means.

More “Agil-ish” than Agile

In my own consulting practice where I untangle the knots in software development, at the beginning of an interim VP Engineering engagement, or an assessment, I’ll ask everyone in the organization to characterize their process. “We say we’re Agile,” they often tell me. Or, “We’re Agil-ish.” Or, “We’ve frankensteined together some Agile.”

I’ve heard, “We’re Agile, we use Jira.” And, “We’re Agile, we hold standups,” when what I see are daily status meetings held via Slack. Executives urge their teams to “increase their velocity” and laud Team A for having better velocity than Team B. HR’s guidelines have managers focus performance reviews on individual effort not team outcomes. The business insists on interrupting sprints for an unplanned feature some salesperson just sold to a customer. Or sometimes, there is the opposite extreme where senior management approved a specific scope and budget, but when it becomes clear that scope or schedule needs to change, executives are resistant to making any changes – or they require you to go back through a new budgeting cycle to get changes approved.

It’s a team sport

I’ve been in software development for multiple decades. I’ve long known that software development is a team sport. You can read more about how I’ve learned this in my book, Managing the Unmanageable, as one of my prime rules of thumb.

A few years after co-authoring the Agile Manifesto, Jim Highsmith urged us all to remember that “practices in the absence of guiding principles are often inappropriately used.” A difficult mandate to live up to when so few teams have spent even eight hours together absorbing those guiding principles, let alone collaborating together to identify and adapt their practices to appropriate use in their cultures, guided by those principles. See more about this in my post, Agile: Not a Magic Pill.

When I began training teams in Agile a dozen years ago, I was helping teams transform from waterfall to Agile. By 2013, I’d found myself helping teams transform from “Agile” to Agile.

Getting from “Agil-ish” to Agile

To become more effective at leveraging Agile, we must do two things: understand why we’re using Agile, then work towards truly adopting Agile values, not just Agile practices.

Why do we use Agile? As an early Agilist put it: “The point is not to do Agile. The point is to be effective. Agile provides us insights.” The place where I think the Agile Manifesto got it wrong was when it opened the first principle with, “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer…” I think our highest priority is to delight the customer. So, we should be adopting Agile to become more effective at delighting our customers.

Adopting Agile values is much harder than merely adopting its practices. We have to remember that changing culture in a company always takes more time, but it’s worth it to create long-lasting, and more effective change.

3 tips to get started

  1. Focus on how Agile helps you achieve better outcomes, rather than faster outputs. It’s not about how many sprints you can complete or features you can produce. It’s about the benefits the software you build can provide to customers and your company.
  2. Use Agile’s guiding principles as a window into your practices to consider if we’re actually being Agile. Evaluate how well your team is truly living by each principle, and identify ways to improve, considering communications, collaboration, tools, and yes, processes.
  3. Work to get manager and executive support. It wasn’t too long into delivering Agile training that teams began asking me if I’d tell their leaders what I was telling them. Managers are well-meaning. It’s just that they look for simple ways to evaluate software development success. They often latch on to “velocity” as this metric – rather than company health and customer delight.

Start Unleashing Your Agile

Watch our on-demand webinar, How Teams and Leaders Can Unleash the Power of Agile, on October 28th, 2021. We’ll talk about what you can do now to truly become Agile and delight your customers.


About the Author

Ron Lichty is a Consultant: Interim VP Engineering.
Ron Lichty has been managing software development and product organizations since Apple recruited him from a boutique programming consultancy in 1988. He led the development of Apple’s UX/UI, then brought engineering discipline to product delivery at Stanford, Check Point, Razorfish, Fujitsu, Charles Schwab, and a host of startups. Ron literally wrote the book on software development, Managing the Unmanageable (Addison-Wesley). A strong believer that product development is a team sport, he consults as an interim VP of Engineering and advisor in transforming chaos to clarity and making software development “hum,” including training executive teams on how to support their Agile teams.

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