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What Is Agile?

Yesterday evening I joined a panel of agile coaches at Agile Valley in Maidenhead. One of the questions we were asked as part of the 45 minute panel session was “For a complete newbie, how would you describe what ‘agile’ is”?

My answer was that “agile is a state of mind”. I live, breathe, sleep, eat agile practices. Agile is far more than having a neat backlog management tool, story points, a scrummaster, product owner and sprints; it’s not a set of processes; nor a prescriptive set of methodologies. Agile development, indeed agile business, is a state of mind that focuses on delivering value and adapting to change.

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On the drive home from Maidenhead, I started to wonder about how I really would describe “Agile” to a complete newbie. Last night I was in a room full of people who must have had some idea what agile development is, or else they wouldn’t have chosen Agile Valley, and yet many of my friends and family have no idea what it is that I do, or why I feel so passionately about it. I started wondering what on earth my folks made of my #agilevalley Facebook and Twitter posts - do they know what agile is?

By now, I’m clocking close to 100mph on the M4 and laughing at the thought of my Mum describing agile - I’d place money on her describing an over-eager puppy bounding around an obstacle course. My Dad, probably a bit closer to the mark with a comparison to a sports man or woman. Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily. Ballerinas are agile. Tennis players. Gymnasts. Maybe agile technologists really aren’t that far from gymnasts? I’m teaching my teams how to choreograph their performance, how to plan their routine and then how to execute it elegantly and efficiently. Gymnasts are strong and admired for their grit and determination. Gymnasts can bend, stretch and bound across the floor at speed. And when a gymnast falls, or misses their cue, they have to adapt and finish their routine confidently, despite the setback.

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