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Big “A” vs. Little “A” Agile

If you have been in the software development space for any amount of time, eventually you will hear the catch phrase “big A vs. little a Agile” at some point in your career. You will see it in conference speeches, or you will hear it in company overviews and power point presentations.

Now, this is a pretty innocuous phrase. Generally, what this means is that a company, or team considers themselves agile practitioners of some type of methodology, but aren’t necessarily following the methodology to the letter. So, if they practice scrum, there are variances in how they practice it versus how scrum is outlined in the actual scrum guide.

This phrase points to how well a team or a company is following a particular process. It’s a nod to the role of agile within development without showing a solid understanding of what makes things agile. It’s an assessment of a team’s process without consideration of how the team interacts. It is a phrase that needs to stop being used.

The First Value of the Agile Manifesto

Let’s review what the creators of the Agile Manifesto wrote as their first value:

[We] value individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

When you hear the phrase “we are small ‘a’ agile,” what is the emphasis? The emphasis is on how well someone employs a process or framework. This is contrary to what the founders documented. Though processes and tools are important, it was never meant to measure a teams success. Even if you follow every ceremony and guideline in scrum, it doesn’t mean that you are agile. Sure, you are in a better position to be agile, but if your interactions are poor and your process isn’t bettering the individuals’ performance on the team, than what is it good for?

Relax Just a Little Bit

Agile isn’t about being perfect or implementing all process-things correctly. The bottom line is being agile is delivering value and navigating that process as quickly and collaboratively as possible; all of the methodologies and frameworks that fall under the agile umbrella solely exist to accomplish that mission.

It may be that some of the things in scrum aren’t working for your team. That’s okay. Though the founders of scrum wouldn’t consider it scrum, (see so here) it doesn’t mean that you aren’t being agile. You are just doing something else that upholds interactions, responds to change, and collaborating with your customers in pursuit of delivering working software.

There is room for inspection, adaption, and experimentation. That is the essence of agile-based work.

It’s not Process; It’s Progress of Products

Don’t measure your progress by how well you are implementing a process. Measure it by how much value you get by delivering working software frequently. To me, that is the metric of how agile you really are; there is no such thing as big “a” agile or little “a” agile.

Thanks for reading.

Agile Up!

David Bjarnson

David Bjarnson

David is an agile practitioner for 6 years in various capacities working specifically on software development for a number of different companies. David has his CSM, CSPO, CSP-PO, CSP-SM, and PMI-ACP certifications.

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