This buzzword is being used more than ever before. Everywhere we find advertising slogans advocating for more Agile ways of doing things. (I’ve recently found out that even my bank is Agile!)

Organizations understood that, to survive in today’s world, they must be Agile, they must be able to adapt to their environment to better understand it. And that is exactly the definition of Agility: to be able to endorse evolution and adaptation.

The “Doing Agile VS. Being Agile” movement appeared a few years ago. Is it a trendy phenomenon? Why is it appearing now while Agility was initiated in 2001 with the Agile Manifesto?

I suggest to go a few years back and share with you the way I see things.

My vision

What I’ve come to realize is that a large part of Agilists has reached a new Agile maturity level. In the 2000s, I remember that consulting firms used to “sell” Scrum without really explaining all the aspects of Agile approaches (and I was part of it). I’m not blaming anyone. It is difficult to achieve a new state of mind without plunging into it (except for the Manifest’s signatories). Therefore, it took numerous years of experience and practice to understand that Agility is way more than just a framework.

shutterstock_249616468I like to draw a parallel with an iceberg: 90% of its volume is under water; only 10% is visible.

When beginning your transition, in your little boat (surrounded by sharks awaiting to remind you that Agility is not working in your organization), it’s only the top of the iceberg that you are seeing. These are the practices. You set foot on this new territory, explore it, and test it. Then, you gradually discover a whole new world. Yet, the simplest way to tackle Agility during a transition remains the practices.

I’d like to use a personal example now: when I began practising meditation, I did it very simply. I sat on a cushion and waited for the magic to happen. Just like Scrum, the meditation practice is easy to understand. However, their implementation is way more complex. To become a Buddhist master, one needs more than simply adopt the right posture. It’s over time, with a lot of practice, by reading, and by discussing with others who practise meditation that I began reaching this state of serenity. I managed to integrate the underlying values a little more.

The Shuhari model

When I explain this during my interventions, I use the Shuhari model, which is originating from a Japanese martial art. This concept describes three stages of learning a discipline, from beginning to mastery.

Here is a short description of each stage (found on Wikipedia):

  • shu (守) “protect”, “obey”—traditional wisdom—learning fundamentals, techniques, heuristics, proverbs
  • ha (破) “detach”, “digress”—breaking with tradition—detachment from the illusions of self
  • ri (離) “leave”, “separate”—transcendence—there are no techniques or proverbs, all moves are natural, becoming one with spirit alone without clinging to forms; transcending the physical

Therefore, we begin learning a discipline at the Shu level by applying the rules. Once fully grasped, we can detach from them and find new approaches that are more in line with the context. This is of utmost importance; the context must remain in the “line of sight” of your approaches. A solution that worked well in a team might not work in another… Always be aware of your environment. In the end, we become one with the rules and reach an Agile state of mind. From that moment on, when looking for a solution to a problem, the one you find is in accordance with the Manifesto.

Being Agile

I apply the Shuhari model to my Agile transitions as well as numerous daily activities. This model helps me visualize the current situation. For example, being aware of the stage I’m in in the kitchen allows me to set my objectives for reaching the next stage. We often talk about an empirical process and it is, in my opinion, the best way to develop an Agile mind.

Is a development team who rigorously applies Scrum’s rules an Agile team? Maybe or maybe not. Agility cannot be defined by a set of practices; it’s rather a state of mind that we cultivate.

What does being Agile mean? First of all, it’s to show common sense. It’s to understand the Manifesto as well as its values and principles. And above all, it is to experience them concretely. It’s to put people first. It’s to take responsibility. I like to see Agility as a means rather than a destination. One can never say: “That’s it, I’ve covered all there is about Agility!” To be Agile, you have to constantly question yourself so you can adapt and follow the flow that you have created.

Thus, if you’ve recently told yourself: “Ah! I’m Agile” or “Ah! My organization is Agile”, please sit down and answer the following questions:

  • Are people the focal point of my activities?
  • Are we continuously questioning ourselves in order to improve ourselves and evolve?
  • Are we delivering quality and is the client satisfied (are they getting what they really want?)?

There is always room for improvement. So, get in your Agile mobile and enjoy the ride!

David Preti

Developer at first, since 2004 David has been passionate about everything related to continuous improvement and Agile approaches. He has been guiding teams in their quest for delivering value.

Today, as a certified Agile coach and change agent, his wish is to help individuals, teams, and organizations in their transition. He believes that human beings are the greatest wealth of our societies and supports change by integrating this postulate. Having been converted to Management 3.0, he uses the proposed tools as catalysts for the transformation.

Finally, David takes great pleasure in sharing his experience and knowledge of Agility during training sessions and presentations.

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