Can we be partially agile?

Agility is funny, everyone wants to be more agile but it almost always means something different to each person or organization you talk to. Everyone has a different definition for being agile, some people say “they’re doing agile” like agile is something that you do. Some say they have sprints and stand-ups so they must be agile! Its not always that clean cut though. I like to make parallels between being agile and being fit when I share my thoughts with people and this is why.


All of us have some form of idea of what a fit person looks like. For some of us that maybe someone like Michael Phelps who can swim fast, for some that can be Usain Bolt who is one of the fastest runners ever or even Eddie Hall one of the strongest power lifters alive today. They’re very different people with very different strengths but we can all agree that they’re fit. Agility is very similar in this regard, agile teams may look very different from each other but we can quickly and easily figure out what it means to be an agile team.

If we look more closely there are things that people do that makes us say that they’re fit. We say that fit people go to the gym, they eat nutrient packed food and they get the right amount of sleep. We don’t say though that everyone that goes to the gym is fit, not everyone who eats and sleeps well is fit as well. Its in doing it right for their own context that we say that they’re fit. It doesn’t take a fitness expert to know that someone like Eddie Hall trains very differently from Michael Phelps even if we can all agree that they all go the gym.

The same concept applies to agile teams as well. Having daily stand ups, fixed time boxes or uses story points doesn’t automatically make one an agile team just like going to the gym doesn’t make automatically make you a fit person. These practices have to be done within the right context and achieve the intended results for us to say that we’re being agile. Having a stand up just to report to someone is like doing bench-presses when you’re training for a marathon. You’ll get a nice strong chest but it doesn’t help you finish the marathon one bit.


So what does it mean really? Well we’re not all fit at the same level as the guys mentioned above but we know people who are fitter than the average person. Maybe someone who lifts a bit more weight at the gym because he trains regularly or someone whose 5k fun-run times always seem to be better than most people because she eats well and sleeps right. Agility works in the same way; some teams may be a little bit or a lot better at communicating with each other because they have meaningful stand-ups. Maybe they get feedback from their users quickly because they can deploy a little bit faster than their competitors.

Its easy to spot the really fit people the same way its easy to spot really high functioning agile teams. For most of us though we’re not yet there, we’re not yet a gold medal winning level athlete or an agile team that people write blog posts about but we are taking steps to constantly improve and that’s what matters. You can be partially agile and that’s okay.

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