If you’re in the market to improve your company’s ability to delight customers or looking to reduce the time it takes to get new product enhancements to your customer, you’re probably asking about ‘agile’. If you have quality problems that constantly delay releases, you’re probably looking to be ‘agile’. If you’ve noticed that all the successful businesses in your industry are using an agile framework, you really want 'agile'.
So what is this ‘agile’ thing? Many in the software development industry still think agile is a noun, or a verb, but it’s really an adjective. Even when industry practitioners reference the Manifesto for Agile Software Development they miss that ‘agile’ is just an adjective. If ‘agile’ were a verb or noun you might be able to buy it off the shelf and use it. But you can’t buy agile. Agile has to be earned.
Let me elaborate with an analogy: if you want to be a marathon runner, and win, you’re going to need to be in good shape. You’ll have to eat right, sleep right, exercise right, and maintain that discipline for a long time. Failure to do so and you won’t get to the first water stand in your first race. If you really want to be good, you’ll hire a trainer and coach. Can you buy the ability to be a competitive marathon runner? Can you buy ‘healthy’ or ‘in shape’? Can you just take a pill? No, you cannot, because health and fitness have to be earned.
Being an agile organization is no different than being healthy and in-shape as a person. It takes time, discipline, good choices, and will-power. It takes knowledge and reinforcement of the right practices. For a person to be a marathon runner, it starts with applying the right form, building good habits, and sticking to the plan. Organizations must approach being agile the same way. The organization must start by applying the right form, or the right frameworks and build discipline. Next, the organization must set and reinforce good habits by challenging one another, asking ‘why’, and constantly finding ways to improve and to learn. Keep up the discipline and bake these ideas into your culture for long-term sustained success.
Taking a class won’t make you agile. Reading a book won’t make you agile. Hiring a team of agile coaches won’t even make you agile. However, doing all of these things and relentlessly focusing on being a nimble, healthy, and in-shape organization will eventually earn your company the adjective “agile”.