What is the purpose of Agile?

It’s been a while since I posted. This is a reflection not of busyness or malaise, but that I’ve reached a new phase in my Agile journey. Things that felt certain are once again in flux as I question many of my previous assumptions about Agile.

This has led me to one fundamental question:

“What is/was the purpose of Agile?”

In many ways Agile was created as a shared space in which we could explore better ways of delivering software. It defined the boundaries of the space so that constructive dialogue could emerge. However, it would appear that those boundaries have not necessarily framed the right questions.

It has helped us define new methods and techniques for many issues in software development, such as a lack of feedback and learning. However, what it didn’t capture correctly is a focus on outcome and therefore became bogged down in methodology.

The Agile space was and is a fertile breeding ground for methods and tools, but it does not, by its very nature, help us devise ways of improving outcomes or delivery of value. We only need look at the plethora of methodologies and the ecosystems of agile tool vendors to see clear evidence that Agile, although successful in spreading and amplifying many positive behaviours, has also amplified behaviours which actively damage the Agile movement.

Therefore it is clear that it is time to re-frame Agile. To be clear about its purpose as a defined space for cultivating improvements in software development and delivery – for those improvements to be about the outcomes of a piece of software or the value that it delivers. In fact one of the first questions is the definition of value itself. Value to us as developers, value to society, value to business, value to customers?

Outcome based Agile is not new. In fact Tom Gilb wrote a paper 2010 speaking about Value-Driven development. Not only  that, Tom Glib has probably been arguing for this very thing since the 1960’s.

As part of this re-framing, we need to be clear that the framing is for the creation of a shared communication space and language. This space would be for collaboration, not competition, and not for commercial gain. For example, materials and books should be released for the benefit of the community and not for the benefit of a small cabal of vendors. In this way we ensure that the very essence of what it is we are trying to achieve is in the DNA of the movement. That the value is not in the system conditions but the outcomes that the system enables (in short the creation of a system is not the outcome but the value it delivers is).

Through questioning of Agile and by examining my thoughts and beliefs I’ve come to discover more and have taken another step forward on my Agile journey. This is a valuable technique and I suggest you consider taking some time to question the purpose of Agile/Lean/Kanban/Scrum now and in the future. It is by questioning our beliefs and ideas we come to learn so much more about them.

Would you consider exploring these questions further in focussed discussions?

References and further reading:


AgileByExample 2013: Tom Gilb – Agility is the Tool, not the Purpose

12 TOUGH QUESTIONS May06.pdf – Tom Gilb & Kai Gilb