Thursday, June 12, 2014

Agile - O, be some other name!

Agile methodologies have been around for quite a while now. The Agile Manifesto was created way back in 2001. As such Agile - as a term - has gone from a curious status quo disruptor to a buzz-word to an entrenched term. It is similarly used and abused in the same fashion as most business terms. It also carries some significant baggage - not least of all the perception that it can only be applied to software development.

Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet
Once one grows past the phase where one is simply trying to teach the practices of a particular flavor of Agile Methodologies, one is often faced with the decision of whether to drop using the moniker 'Agile'. If one sees the raw potential within the practices and principles to transform organizational culture to be healthier, happier and more efficient, how do you sell it beyond the IT department? Some leverage broader terms such as Organizational Development, others reframe the term to something like "Agility".

I see the appeal of these approaches and use them myself when appropriate. However, I am often struck that we are just superficially engaging in word play. We are left with Juliet's quandary (Act 2 Scene 2 Line 43): What's in a name? That which we call an Agile Team, by any other name would be as healthy.

Which brings us to the true focus of the more advanced Agile Coach - to transform the team's or organization's health so that they can be, among other things, agile. For this reason I like to embrace the baggage of the term Agile. It is a handle we can use to enter into a transformative conversation. This sort of conversation is usually had at the start of a relationship with a client or potential client. It might not even be had by an Agile Coach, but rather by a Salesperson. I am a firm believer that successful transformations begin at the very first engagement. Why not utilize the power of this handle to begin the transformation?

Rather than telling the person what Agile is, ask what they know about Agile; what they think it is. This can get into all manner of discussion quickly. Even misconceptions can be used as transformative opportunities. You can get quickly past lengthy and potentially boring or confusing explanations and start delving into where they are struggling and suggesting how you can assist them. If you use another name, you have to spend too much valuable conversation time just setting the stage.