Patrick Joyce

March 3, 2014

Agile with a lowercase 'a'

A few weeks ago I was listening to Episode 26 of the excellent podcast Debug where the guest was Flipboard co-founder Evan Doll. The whole conversation was interesting and is worth listening to. Around minute 56, the conversation turned to development methodologies and Evan said this:

I like to say that we’re sort of “Agile with a lowercase a” and I think that may be even overselling the amount of process that we have.

I immediately thought “he stole my line!”

“Agile with a lowercase ‘a’” is how I explained our process when I was recruiting engineers at LivingSocial, and it is how I described my values when I started interviewing for my next job.

I think it is an important concept.

The agile software movement began with a manifesto The manifesto is a statement of values, not a prescription for how to build software.

The people inspired by that manifesto developed a host of tools and techniques to help build software better. Things like Test Driven Development, Pair Programming, Daily Standups, Story Points, and Burndown Charts.

Those tools and techniques were then organized into methodologies like XP, Scrum, and Kanban.

I use and love many of those tools, but each of them is just that: a tool. They have their place, but there are also plenty of times when they are not appropriate.

And there isn’t anything wrong with those methodologies per se. Unfortunately, many people have forgotten the values that started the agile movement and instead placed blind faith in particular tools and methodologies.

“Agile” is an adjective. It is not a noun. It isn’t something you do, it is something you are.

Rigidly adhering to any set of rules is not agile. And that is why I try to keep the “a” lowercase.

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