Making sense of Agility

"I know this doesn't make any sense, but ..." - aren't you all too familiar with this response towards questioning a specific process or practice? I have started the agilecartoons series to highlight the absurdity of practices and ideas some organizations hold dear. But is absurdity sufficient reason to say "That's not Agile"? I myself am not a big fan of either using the "Big-'A' -gile" nor about branding anything or anyone without understanding their context. So let's drill in.


We need to be able to understand what's going on around us. Awareness of what's happening is very important when making decisions. With more transparency, we can put our ideas, actions and options into a more appropriate context. As transparency goes down, we resort to doing more and more guesswork and the probability of poor decision making increases.

So, here's the first sense-making question:
Does it make sense to make a decision with the understanding we currently have?


Rather than just doing work, this work must be seen in context, the big picture. And then we need to take one step back and determine whether our actions, choices or ideas fit into the picture and whether that picture looks odd.

This brings us to the second sense-making question:
Does it make sense to do the things we're about to do next?


Upon discovering that something does indeed not make sense, does it make sense to do that thing? If you answered "Yes", I will rest my case. Otherwise, we need to look for the most sensible option at our disposal. I carefully avoid the term "right", because right and wrong may only be visible in retrospect.

This brings us to the third sense-making question:
Does it make sense to do something else instead?


When acting within an complex system - and organizations tend to be inherently complex - then our predictions about what would make sense are often not very accurate. We could be anywhere from outlandishly wrong to precisely correct with the choices we made. Fire-and-forget decision making often results in heaping one more dysfunctional approach over another. When we tried something, we need to look at our current situation by asking:
Did the things we just did turn out to make sense?

Does it make sense to "go Agile"?

If the answer to the sense-making questions is "No", hesitation, reluctance or even resistance, then - sorry to say - what you do doesn't make any sense, by design. As long as there is a mental barrier to getting to "Yes", no amount of "Agile" frameworks, methods, practices or concepts will make you agile. Your system is broken and you should examine that first.

If, on the other hand, everyone can wholeheartedly say "Yes" to the four sense-making questions, then you may find value by experimenting with those agile frameworks, methods or practices that make sense.

The avid reader may have noted that the first three elements are called "The Pillars of Scrum" (and/or "Empiricism") - and at the expense of stating the obvious, your willingness to uphold these elements is essential in determining whether it makes sense to introduce Scrum.

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