One of the clichés you will run across if you read enough articles or watch enough videos about agility is that we should be using the term as an adjective rather than as a noun. Here are a couple of examples of this misuse.

“We are doing agile”

Agile is an umbrella term for many concepts aimed at delivering value, improving quality and making people awesome. But once we start talking about “doing agile”, it usually implies that the focus has shifted from the outcomes we’d like to realized to the tactics of how we plan to realize those outcomes. Once that happens, the next step is usually to emphasize those tactics more than what they are helping us achieve. Never forget, “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”.

“My agile is better than your agile”

A single set of agile practices, roles, tools and techniques may be the right answer within one work context but could be less effective in a different one. Once we start to invest in a specific framework or methodology by taking courses, earning certifications or by participating in echo chamber communities focused on our framework of choice we start to treat every initiative as a nail for our (sole) hammer.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Misunderstandings can also happen when we treat agile as an adjective in the wrong manner.

“I am managing an agile project” or “I am an agile project manager”

Unless your project gains sentience it can’t be agile. Similarly, referring to yourself as an agile project manager might make someone ask who would want to be a non-agile project manager.

Even calling something an agile practice, tool, role or artifact isn’t accurate. That implies that these might not have existed prior to 2001 and are only of use on those projects which are being delivered using an adaptive approach. Many so called agile practices emerged from lean, DSDM, Scrum, XP and other precursors to the Manifesto.

“I want to use/learn THE agile methodology”

This is on par with the “my agile is better than your agile” myth as it implies that agility is achieved by following a single recipe.

So what are some better uses for the term? How about “being agile” or an “agile life cycle”? The former treats agility as a characteristic or trait of an individual, group or organization which can be assessed objectively. The latter refers to the approach taken to deliver value incrementally and iteratively to our stakeholders in contrast to a predictive life cycle.

If it sounds like I’m quibbling over a minor semantics concern, words do matter and when folks refer to agile inappropriately it can often be a symptom of deeper issues.

(If you liked this article, why not read my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com  and on Amazon.ca  as well as a number of other online book stores)

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