What is Agile?—beats me, but I know it when I see it

Cory Foy has started an Agile FAQ. His first question is What is Agile? Now, I’m notorious for wandering away from definitional arguments, and I like the answers Cory already has, but I think I have something to add. I have an incomplete and informal list of questions I ask myself about teams to gauge whether they really “get it”:

  • Is there spontaneous chatter? (Most often work-related, but a helping of casual chatter too.)

  • Is there hustle?

  • Are people afraid of being wrong?

  • Do people readily ask for help? Do people readily volunteer help? Even—especially—when they could say, “that’s not my job”?

  • Do I notice people giving in for the sake of the group? (Such as deciding to try something someone else’s way as a way to reduce tension.)

  • When people talk about solving problems, do they talk in terms of nudging something that’s wrong in the direction of rightness, or in terms of solving the problem once and for all?

  • Is their response to a problem to increase the visibility of information? Do they seem to think that if people know about a problem, and are continuously reminded of it, that they’re likely to just naturally act to solve it?

  • Are they a touch monomaniacal about getting working software out there, or at least being able to show someone something new that actually works?

  • Do they disparage the “business side of the house”, or do they have active sympathy with the people there?

  • Do they act helpless? Or as if they have power? Do they give up on problems because “they” will never let them be fixed? (”They” being management, the cubicle police, the configuration management board, etc.)

  • Do they want to be able to take pride in their work? (Or are they cynical or passive about whatever it is they do?) And do they take pride?

I don’t care if I know what Agile is if I know it when I see it. I don’t know to what extent certain values, practices, techniques, or tools influence my answer to the question “Is this team Agile?” To some extent, for sure.

One Response to “What is Agile?—beats me, but I know it when I see it”

  1. David’s Tech Blog » Blog Archive » Agile thinking for distributed teams Says:

    […] Recent work changes have led me to think more intensely about development methodologies, project management for small teams, and similar issues, and I’ve been reading more about Agile development. I am much more interested in the philosophical underpinnings, the values of Agile, the overall approach of Agile development, than I am in the specific practices that make up a particular “official” methodology such as XP or Scrum. So I was interested to see Brian Marick’s post on his Exploration Through Example blog entitled “What is Agile? — beats me, but I know it when I see it“. […]

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