What is Agile or agility? and does the definition really matter?

Let me start with answering if it matters, and let us start with a fundamental question: What are terms? Oxford dictionary defines “Term” as  “a word or phrase used to describe a thing or to express a concept, especially in a particular kind of language or branch of study.” The goal of terms when they are introduced or reintroduced is to provide a common foundation to enable people to grow a discussion around them and move subjects forward. However, there is something the oxford dictionary doesn’t mention that is fundamental for the term to achieve its purpose, and that is the agreement on its meaning. This brings us to the biggest challenge when it comes to the term Agile. If we go back to the meaning from the oxford dictionary, Agile means “Relating to or denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.” However, even the use of the word agile is not agreed upon between experts, as some prefer the term agility such as Dave Thomas that started a debate from his article “Agile is Dead (Long Live Agility).” To add another layer to lack of agreement is the terms used interchangeably sometimes. This includes: Agile software development, Agile project management, Agile innovation, Agile transformations, Agile organization, and my favorite the Agile method and Agile framework…etc. It became such an overused term that it started becoming vague while still many people don’t know Agile in the first place. Not that I am an expert in Agile or Agility, however, there is a common meaning to Agile, which is not even new. Agile mindset is the term that helps understanding Agile in general. Susan McIntosh in her article “What Exactly is the Agile Mindset?” “An agile mindset is the set of attitudes supporting an agile working environment. These include respect, collaboration, improvement and learning cycles, pride in ownership, focus on delivering value, and the ability to adapt to change. This mindset is necessary to cultivate high-performing teams, who in turn deliver amazing value for their customers.” Once the mindset is applied to other terms, it adds the values and principles to it. It becomes easier to discuss the term while attached to other concepts. If we want to discuss the Agile project management we understand it is the type of project management that fosters attitudes and a working environment of respect and collaboration and has the framework that emphasis delivering value quickly and adapting to change. When I was asked by someone who didn’t know what Agile was, I started thinking and researching for a straight answer and eventually realized that the term was not a specific solution to a specific problem. I believe Agile is the scientific and humane approach to value creation, which we lost track of during the industrial revolution. Hence, I dare to say agile doesn’t have meaning on its own, it adds meaning to whatever it is attached to. The harder you try to formalize it, the less meaning it will have. Here is a fun meaning to remember AGILE with: A: is for Adaptive, no matter the situation, we can adapt to it. G: is for Goal is Value, we remember that our goal is to deliver maximum value as quickly as possible. I: is for Introspective, we always seek to inspect and criticize our ways of doing things. L: is of Learning, as we introspect, we are open to learn and try new ways. E: is for Empathy, we respect the people who do the work and we work together with respect.

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