Agile has reached some sort of tipping point. There’s been so much noise about agile that those just getting started or those that have resisted it for 18 years are very likely irritated or confused. By noise, I mean how the word ‘agile’ has become overloaded. There’s lots of reasons why our industry has become tired with the word. Some of it is because there are more frameworks than ever. Some is because there are so many consultants claiming to be able to help companies “go agile” and enough of them have screwed up enough times that people are jaded. (The “we tried agile but it didn’t work” camp). And some is just laziness — just look at all the job descriptions on Indeed and LinkedIn for “Project Manager / Scrum Master”… as if adding a dash of agile will make your job posting sound cool and attract more candidates.
This phenomenon is not new. A few years back, Melissa Perri wrote a great article explaining specifically how people have started misusing the “buzzwords” around agile.
So what do we do now?
The noise has exceeded the value of the signal. People roll their eyes at the promise of agile. But the value proposition has not changed. Those that know the value at its core and can explain it and coach it and help teams deliver better continue to see great success. The agile movement is stronger than ever, if you know where to look. But it’s hard to find the right coach or scrum master or consultant to help drive change in your organization.
The answer may be in simply NOT using the word. Jonathan Smart from Barclays explains how he stopped using the word as a leader of the agile transformation there and instead started asking teams if they wanted “better products faster”. When you explain the progress and benefits related to agile efforts to executives, it’s often better to stick to “lean language” because the general business terms about value and waste resonate better there.
And maybe, maybe we’ve actually persisted this lingering belief of the IT cost center trap because we’ve kept using the word agile! The word agile is often the religion that began with the technologists who are trying to convince the business silos. In spite of all this, there is momentum around the idea of Business Agility, focusing on the whole organization and treating our organizations more holistically in the treatment of agile. But do we need to give it a name? Is there any benefit to drawing distinctions between a “Digital Transformation” or an “Agile Transformation” or “Business Agility” when we’re really just trying to achieve the same thing?
My current client is using this mouthful of a term: “Modernized Delivery: the trusted new way of working” because the term agile is tired there too. And frankly, I like that just as well as anything.
Words matter. But what’s the point? If we don’t give it a word, how do we make it better? You know the answer. It’s simply doing the hard work. Instilling the beliefs and mindset from the original manifesto and 12 principles.
If we focus on outcomes and the big picture and actually realize great benefits, maybe someday soon we won’t need to give it a name.