So, what is ‘Being Agile’?

Keith Richards
24 Oct 2017

With so many people and organisations ‘going agile’, ‘doing agile’ and ‘being agile’, you would think that everyone in the agile community would have a very clear definition of what ‘being agile’ actually is.

Well, I have been working in the agile arena for twenty years now – and I don’t think we have one!

Common definitions

I hear everything from ‘it’s just a mindset’ to ‘read the agile manifesto’.

However, if it is just a mindset, does that mean we do not need a defined process with roles and responsibilities? If it is ‘just a mindset’, how would you define or describe that mindset?

If the agile manifesto is THE definition of agile, then this means agile only relates to software and teams…and one of the principles of the manifesto would appear to exclude Kanban from being agile! That doesn’t sound right to me. Surely agile has moved on since 2001! …or has it?

Do we need a definition?

I am sure some of you reading this are already asking the question “do we really need to know what ‘being agile’ is anyway?”. Well, maybe we don’t, but I think it is vital we do for the following reason:

If you don’t know what ‘being agile’ is, how are you going to decide what to do and where to go, so that you can ultimately ‘be agile’? In other words, what are you going to do to get there, and how will you know when you have arrived?

Is it the same as 'being fit'?

I am not sure if this analogy will help explain my point, but can you imagine trying to ‘get fit’, if you don’t know what ‘being fit’ is?

Is being fit to do with exercise? Is it to do with what you eat and drink? Is it about both? Is it about more than both?

If someone is trying to ‘get fit’, what do they need to do in order to ‘get fit’, and how will they know if they have become ‘fit’? How will they define what ‘being fit’ is, and to further complicate things, what will they measure in order to prove that they have become fit? Would you measure weight? Plank duration? Heart rate? Happiness? Something else?

Again, does it really matter? Do we need to define what fitness, or a healthy lifestyle, is? Well, there are plenty of definitions of a healthy lifestyle on the web. Organisations like the National Health Service (NHS) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have to have clear definitions, in order to carry out their missions.

Should we have a single definition?

So, shouldn’t we have a single definition of what it is to ‘be agile’, so that we can all stand behind it? Further to this, shouldn’t it be measurable in some form, so that we can demonstrate that ‘we are agile’?

If everyone in the agile community had to define ‘being agile’ in less than 20 words, we should all come up with reasonably similar answers, shouldn’t we? After all, we are all trying to help people and organisations achieve the same goal of ‘being agile’.

This should be quite simple shouldn’t it! …or is it?

Are we all going to agree, more or less, and in simple terms, on what it is to ‘be agile’?

Go on, have a go!

If you had ten seconds to tell someone what it is to ‘be agile’, what would you say?

Can you define it?

If so, why not have a go and tell me what ‘being agile’ is in as few words as possible. If you can make it measurable, then all the better!

Look for the thread on LinkedIn and see how your definiton compares to everyone else's!

Good luck!


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