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From Agile to agility… time to stop talking about points and sprints

Is it time to drop all of the Agile language and get back to work?


I believe it is now time drop all the confusing language Agile has introduced re how we talk about getting work done. The feedback I have been hearing from executives and even Agile practitioners is that we need to simplify what we do and remove all the language that creates a divide between those that can talk Agile and those that cannot.

Agile language removes Mastery and Autonomy

By using their “special” language, Agile practitioners have alienated a lot of businesspeople. Is the introduction of new language worth the impact of making competent business leaders feel stupid? Is the trade-off worth it? I have come to the opinion that the answer is NO. In this post I’ll explain my thinking and provoke us into rethinking how we talk about the work we do as agilists.

When I realised it was time for me to change

I had just started with a new client; I had just finished a series of interviews with the CEO and her team. During these interviews these experienced leaders shared their frustration at what they had been observing across their industry, which had many of the big players make bold moves towards adopting Agile operating models. The leaders had watched these big players go for big-bang capital “T” Agile Transformations. They admitted they were confused, felt disempowered and unsure of how they can apply their lifetime of experience into the new “Agile” paradigm.

My realisation came when I received feedback on my language. I thought I was sounding like an Agile expert (what I thought I’d been hired for) but I really sounded like a cult leader with my own language. If Agile is a new paradigm then I think we have it all wrong. We’re becoming too inflexible and rigid in our application of the Agile body of knowledge.

I’m drawn to this quote on what a paradigm is NOT;

A paradigm does not impose a rigid or mechanical approach, but can be taken more or less creatively and flexibly

Blackburn, Simon, 1994, 2005, 2008, rev. 2nd ed. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

So how far can we take this language change

I am currently involved in a few large change programs involving the organisation’s way of working. One is global with 100s of coaches the other is just in start-up mode across a few 1000 people. Both organisations are pragmatic and have a reputation of delivering (getting stuff done). What these two programs have in common is the agnostic approach taken to how Agile is considered. It is more about agility than Agile language.

Agile, like it or not is now associated with post-it notes, sprints, scrums, points, tribes, trains, standing up, cadences, iterations and other language that adds little or no value to helping us get work done.

Can we just use words people already know daily planning (stand-up), fortnightly product feedback (sprint review), teaming improvement (sprint retrospective). I think you get the point. Of course it is important to align to the principles of Agile but I think we’ve taken the language dogma too far.

Any how there's my thoughts; keen to hear yours.

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