I hate agile!

Honestly that’s just a catchy blog title. The Agile Manifesto is for sure one of the best things that happened to my industry just next to Open Source licensing models and the Web architecture.

But I hate the term agile as it conveys far too many different meanings. Eventually agile thus is rendered a meaningless term.

So instead of saying agile you should call the thing your organization is doing

  • Undocumented in case you omit to produce documentation after product development
  • Unspecified and therefore untestable in case you leave scope fully up to your development team
  • Uncontrolled in case you also let them call the shots on the timelines or resources
  • Unplanned if you don’t plan

But when doing (almost) the same as above you could as well call it

  • Trusted creation when you leave scope to the experts
  • Value-oriented and negotiable if the developers and the business stakeholders keep the right balance between iterating (refining) and incrementing (adding)
  • Risk-minimizing if you’re avoiding big bangs because you deliver in little chunks rather than huge, epic milestones
  • Realistic or lean of you don’t plan but prioritize

There’s not one single meaning of agile. And this causes lots, and lots and lots, and lots of discussions as it’s naturally becoming very hard to agree on something when you’re running in different directions with full motivation (or want to fight different things with utter resistance).

Allegedly even the 17 guys who wrote the Agile Manifesto themselves had a pretty hard time to find a proper term for what they had in mind but could not yet clearly name.

“But we need some word to describe the common views that we hold, and felt agile was probably the best to go with.” Martin Fowler

According to Dan North the first candidate was adaptive – which I prefer – but there had already been a book out with that title.

Eventually the whole story about agile is like raising my currently 3-year-old son Philip. Asking people what they think is the best way to nurture a child I usually get two types of answers:

Most of the people have very specific opinions about the subject and keep sharing their beliefs and implicitly try to convince you to follow their advice.

On the contrary far less people would just ask about your son’s character, about the specific problems you’re facing or the goals you want to achieve.

I think the latter exactly describes what agile is all about: You want to achieve a certain goal and have to consider the organizational environment, resources, existing constraints and most of all the people you’re embarking on such a journey with. Be adaptive and don’t focus on Scrum, Kanban, Planning Poker, retrospectives, etc. These are most probably all good tools, but they’re not the core of what puts you ahead.

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