What do you mean when you say “Agile”

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In many organisations today, people are faced with both opportunities and challenges brought by the fourth industrial revolution on a global basis.

These new frontiers change much of what we know about forming, maintaining and directing people.

From my own experience, the cusp of this dramatic shift was recognised by those behind the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

Now, it is common to hear people talk about non-software development groups needing to become ‘Agile’ but what do they actually mean?

My current thinking is that generally, these conversations fall into one of the following concepts:

  1. Agile software development – the creation of valuable software products. I would include DevOps in this categorisation also.
  2. Application of lean thinking – minimising the duration (or lead time) from ‘concept to cash’ and minimise waste.
  3. Business agility – techniques that allow groups of people to focus, make decisions, take risks and change direction in pursuit of aligned goals.
  4. Agile mindset – techniques and mental models that avoid siloed, legacy or entrenched thinking and encourage experimentation, learning and collaboration.

I do find that people will use the word “Agile” to describe any one, a number, or all of these concepts, and I’m not always sure it helps them get their message across and be understood.

So perhaps, when speaking with others, we need to make sure we’re being clear which bit we mean, so that we can understand others and they can understand us.

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