What does it mean to be agile?

A few years back, I coined the phrase, "Creating understanding is more essential than offering solutions". It used to be my working motto. Then I realized that even understanding is nothing. 

Agile Knowledge

As trainers, in a classroom, we teach "Agile" - be it Scrum, Kanban, XP, SAFe, LeSS or whatever. From twenty people who walk out of the class, maybe one has really understood the "Why" behind the things we teach.  The others jump right into doing and sooner or later struggle, because no classroom training can ever be comprehensive. The reason why agility is so important: reality is more complex than any process, method, strategy or approach we could devise.

Agile understanding

As consultants, we have a boatload of knowledge and even practical experience when it comes to implementing agile methods, frameworks and structures. But we usually still fall short of bringing our clients to the level we are. Not because we don't understand, and maybe not even because we can't get our clients to understand, but because we're talking about things we can't do with our client. We bombard them with knowledge and then try to approach the minds, but fail to bring them into action.

Agile Practice

Many agile practitioners merely go through a series of motions with their client (or their company, respectively). They may have both knowledge and understanding of what they do - yet still don't make any impact nor generate fundamental breakthrough. Why? Because, for them, it's just a job: A role they take. It ends with the engagement. And outside, there are other practices, other behaviours. They aren't agile. They only use agile approaches.

Those who just are

And then there's people who are like Toyota. Toyota didn't devise "Agile", their goal wasn't to implement "Lean". They just did, they figured it out all by themselves. And maybe they couldn't even explain half as well as some Agile Trainers can what they did and why the things they did were "Agile". Indeed, they didn't care for such labels at all.
Did they ever bother to build sufficient upfront knowledge about "Agile"? How could they, there was no such knowledge basis!
Did they bother to analyze and understand in detail what "Agile" means? The concept didn't exist, and it never crossed their minds!
Did they bother to implement the "Agile" practices correctly? There was no such thing! They made it up as they went.

They didn't stick to a book, they didn't stick to a concept, they didn't stick to a specific practice.
And that's what made them agile.

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