Doing Agile is a Sign of Incompetence

There seems to be a lot of hype around about the difference between ‘Doing Agile’ and ‘Being Agile’ – the conversation seems to be getting rather heated to say the least!

I agree that there’s a difference between ‘Doing’ and ‘Being’ Agile, however I’d prefer to take a slightly more pragmatic stance and suggest that these two categories refer to either end of the Agile adoption spectrum.

The expression ‘Doing Agile’ refers to the act of blindly following the Agile guidelines, whilst ‘Being Agile’ assumes a level of fluency. Most people will progress from one to the other, unfortunately, some people get lost somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.  It’s not a nice place to be (flashback to my first blog post! See:‘Doing Scrum Properly’ isn’t always the best answer).

One way to illustrate this transition is via the Conscious Competence Ladder:

Unconscious Incompetence

You just find out about Agile – you think it sounds interesting but you haven’t a clue what it’s all about.  You may start having a go but you still don’t know how little you know!

You start ‘doing agile’.

Conscious Incompetence

You’ve read a few books, you’ve attended your two-day Certified Scrum Master training… you’re starting to realise that there are loads of new terms, practices, ways of doing things.

Your Scrum trainer keeps telling you “that’s not scrum”…You feel the fear.  You now know how little you know!

You’re still ‘doing agile’.

Conscious Competence

You’re following the steps, you’re being puritanical and you keep asking yourself how you’re going to shoe-horn your company into an Agile mould. You take your Scrum textbook everywhere you go (okay, maybe that was just me)!

You then attend your first retrospective and realise a few things aren’t working as well as you’d hoped. You stick to the Agile guidelines and realise it’s okay to tailor the approach to better suit your environment – that’s what Being Agile is all about.

You’re STILL ‘doing agile’.

Unconscious Competence

You still read up about best practice and new great ways of delivering high value products; however you’re no longer a slave to the process.

You totally get it – it comes naturally.

You ARE Agile.

So, in summary – Don’t beat up on the ‘do-ers’ as I’m sure you were once a ‘do-er’ too! :)

Note: If you are a ‘Do-er’… and are struggling with your transition to ‘Be-er’… Subscribe to the Agile101 RSS Feed! How’s that for a shameless plug! jk ;)

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  1. Tara – helpful distinction between being and doing!

    Many organizations think capital expenditures on software tracking & planning tools is tantamount to being agile. Plan, spend, and execute. It seems easy.

    Typically, the planning & tracking software CAPEX comes from IT with no coordination with the “beneficiaries” from the business side. Short shrift is given to coaching. And there’s no budget left for courses or conferences.

    I have dubbed this “lazy man’s agile”. Lazy man’s agile is less productive, and no more inspiring, than a pile-driven waterfall from a command-and-control organization.

    Our lesson is simple. People are first. All the other trappings are…well…trappings. Don’t let the easy path of tools and templates drain the humanity from a great idea.

    Hire coaches. Send your team to conferences. Start with the relatively low-cost, low-expectation of showing incremental improvement. To me, this is “doing” and “being” at the same time.

  2. We struggled with agile. To the point where a week was even added on to the project so that we could ‘learn agile’ – I still chuckle at the irony!
    In the end, we stopped trying so hard to follow the entire agile gospel and concentrated more on what it was supposed to be achieving.

    We did just one thing that changed everything!
    We arranged a weekly demo with the users. That was it. No scrums, nothing else at all. Forget all the other pages of rules. Just do that one thing. After that, everything else fell into place – we HAD to design, code and build in a certain way to be able to turn over code at that speed. After a few weeks, we HAD to have ‘daily meetings’ to chat about which areas to focus on. Then, suddenly, we realised that we were now following most of the agile principals – just through necessity to meet those demos.

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