Sunday, January 5, 2014

Is it finally time to “Be Agile”?

As I look across the Agile landscape, I am worried that Agile has become little more than a superficial tag that some teams and organizations seek without aligning with the real cultural shift that is needed to truly become Agile.  What I mean by this is to really align with Agile, it means to understand and embrace the Agile Values and Principles.  While this sounds obvious, I believe there is such little focus on the values and principles and much more so on the mechanics. 

I have hypothesized that those involved in Agile are more knowledgeable about the mechanics of “doing Agile” than understanding the cultural aspects needed for “being Agile”.  My specify hypothesis stated that I believe fewer people could name 3 of the 12 Agile Principles, then could roughly name 3 of the 5 Scrum events (i.e., Sprint, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective).  In order to make my hypothesis meaningful, it was important to test it. 

With that in mind, I established an experiment that tests if people can articulate the Agile principles and if they can articulate the Scrum events.   I created a simple survey that asked Agile participants to write down as many of the five Scrum events that they knew and then write down as many of the twelve Agile Principles they knew.  I distributed this survey to two different Agile professional events and accumulated over 100 survey responses (109 to be exact).  The results were quite revealing and support my hypothesis.  Of the 109 Agile participants: 
  • 59% knew 3 or more of the five Scrum events
  • 11% knew 3 or more of the twelve Agile principles

I actually find these results quite astounding.  Could it really be true that only 11% of Agile professionals and enthusiasts could name just 3 Agile principles?  I don't mean they they memorize them but can provide at least the key words of the principle.  This means that 89% could only name 2 or less.  What makes this even more astonishing is that 67% could not name even a single Agile principle (and I did give credit to those who could name the key words of the principle - e.g., self-organizing,  frequent delivery, etc.). 
In reviewing the survey results, about half of the 67% confused the Agile principles with the Agile Values (e.g., Individuals and interactions over processes and tools).  On the flip side, 59% could name at least 3 of the mechanical Scrum events.  Here are two charts that illustrate the number of respondents that could name a certain number of Scrum events and Agile principles. 

Based on this data, my concluding hypothesis is that the reason there is such a lack of awareness of Agile principles is that there is very little education focused on the Agile principles.  This is particularly concerning since the principles form the basis for what an Agile culture should look like. A simple way for each and every one of us to test this hypothesis is to ask these two questions:
  • How many Agile principles can you name?  Is it 3 or more?
  • How much Agile related education have you have received and how much of it was focused on the Agile principles? 
Now do keep in mind, knowing the principles is just the first step and it doesn't make you Agile.  Next its time to live it.  But how do we expect to “be Agile” if our focus is so much more focused on the mechanics or “doing Agile”.   I would suggest that anyone who claims to be an Agile enthusiast ought to periodically bring their work back to the Agile values and principles.  Maybe its time to revisit the values and principles and understand what it really takes to be Agile.


  1. I resonate very well with this post. I think it can be seen in the way many people seem to think of Scrum when they hear Agile. In some cases I believe that people think Agile is Scrum. This can get even worse when you go higher up in an organization where the details aren't really brought out anyhow. I did a blog post on it here:

    Now I feel inspired by this post and I think I'll spend a few posts going over the Agile Manifesto and talking about the values an principles of it. Thank you for the direction!


  2. I think its time to be more practical towards the situations that comes during development and establish the principles accordingly which will help to give the maturity to the organization as well as to the projects.

  3. Focus should be towards problem solving following a practical approach than focussing on the theoritical aspects. Theory is good for building the principles.

  4. I suggest that people have a bias for doing things over learning theory. That's one of our problems with new "agile teams" that just create short iterative cycles and rename their project manager "scrum master" who presides over a daily meeting. What we need to do is old fashion "drill" and "labs" like we did in school. Introduce principles along with activities and keep calling out those principles, asking for more examples of how they can be implemented. THAT is how folks learn, guided practice with reinforcement comes first.

  5. Mario, I loved reading your analysis, eye opening I must say. My firm is committed to delivering value for its customers by leveraging Agile methodology. Your article serves as a reminder that one has to go beyond stating just the keywords! Venkit

  6. The problem is that, in fact, Agile principles interpretation is rather advanced knowledge for many (most?) claimed agile practitioners

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  8. The results of your experiment confirm my view that what is often lacking is an agile mindset. People have been trained in the process (most often Scrum training) and although many trainers that I know really try to get people to think how agile works and why it works, many only remember the roles and activies.

    I believe that is not being agile but becoming agile that matters (blogged about that in The journey, where you learn and improve continuously is more important then reaching the destination.

    Inspecting and adapting your way of working is crucial to get benefits out of agile. Retrospectives and agile self-assessments help teams to do this, as does coachingand mentoring. Together they help teams to establish a deeper understanding of what agile is all about, to adopt it so that they get benefits out of it!

  9. Too many fakers out there who've just read the books and gone online and payed $30 for a scrum master cert from a Chinese web site. Wipro and Infosys are the worst. They are damaging the entire philosophy.

  10. Great comments everyone! It is true that doing is easier than being but then Agile is really about the being and the culture change it can bring. Thanks!

  11. Agile certifications are a very good way to gauge an individual’s knowledge of what Agile really is and how Agile Principles are implemented across different scenarios. It is very important for an individual to participate in a good training session ahead of any Agile certification e.g. PMI-ACP™ by PMI, Scrum Master Certification (SMC™)by SCRUMstudy, The Agile Project Management™ (AgilePM®) certification by APMG etc.

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