Remember that agile thing?

Many years ago, I stumbled into “agile” and instantly found myself at home. I felt like I was part of “a small group who could change the world”, to paraphrase Margaret Read.

Originally, I thought it was an approach to running projects based on reality rather than theory.

A few years later, I realised that product development and ongoing value creation were often about NOT doing projects. I blogged about my experience coming to that realisation. I was still pretty happy about that.

Then one day, I suddenly noticed that I had somehow missed agile going mainstream. I blogged about it at the time and had some great conversations with people who had similar feelings.

If you are interested, then this is the article with my sudden realisation: https://kingsinsight.com/2017/09/05/somehow-i-missed-agile-going-mainstream/

There is nothing wrong with agile going mainstream and it was a goal I an my compadres had always had. But it also meant that a lot of different people were defining and explaining the agile mindsets, the benefits of one framework over another and other things.

Yesterday though, I saw this video, which is about a book I haven’t yet read. The video is not about agile as such, it is about subtracting before you add.

A key message for me was that deep in our core, as humans, we naturally want to keep adding to things, so that we feel like we are doing something. Yet deep in our core as change agents, we want to start by removing noise, waste and stress so that we can find improvements more easily.

That simple concept reminded me of what I have always thought agile was. If you look in the dictionary, the word “agile” means quick and easy of movement. Agile, then, can be seen as a way to make it quicker and easier to move.

So an agile approach to work should remove impediments and noise to make it quicker and easier to get something done.

Looking in the much revered (but quite short) agile manifesto … we can gain more context for this concept.

“Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer with early and continuous delivery of valuable software” –

The software bit is probably quite relevant, but for me the first principle is more like “to know who is getting value from what you are doing and then create some value for them”.

Now we can say that agile is a way to make it quicker and easier to add value but removing things so you can get on with the value bit.

But how? That sounds hard.

Well – the manifesto says something about “individuals and interactions”, so I think we add value by optimising the interactions of the people involved in our quest for value. So we make it quicker and easier to work together.

But what about agile planning and forecasting and evidence based empirical scrummification of the kanbanised units of our work?

Well – reading much further into the manifesto (3 lines later) there is something about adapting to change rather than sticking to a plan.

So we have to make it quicker and easier to adapt to change .. which means we need a way to sense when things are changing and to share that through the interactions of the individuals.

So again the 3 minute video reminded me – people are overwhelmed with information and with tracking plans and with competing priorities. But if we can make it simpler, by removing un-needed plans and backlogs until they are needed, we can simplify the process of sensing change.

The more we simplify, the more we know who is benefiting from what we do, and the better we interact with each other, the quicker and easier it becomes to get stuff done and add some value.

Interacting with a real team recently, this became really clear to me:

  • If I bring new agile stuff to add on top of what the team is already doing, then I am not making things quicker and easier; but
  • If I take things away so that life is simpler for the team, but they still get to define value/success and they get on with interacting and sensing (testing) what is working and what is not .. then we are getting more agile.

So it reminded me – agile is not something we add to our work, it is something we use to remove things instead of adding them.

All that from a 3 minute video. Maybe I should watch it again to remember the name of the book and them I might read it.


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