COMPAREX

Working Agile in IT
Buzzword or Real Benefit?

What Does it Mean to be Agile in the IT world?

It seems like the word agile is in all mouth. But what does it really mean to work agile? Our expert sheds some light on the topic of agility in IT.

"We are Agile", "We want to be Agile" – the word "agile" (especially with capital “A”) is being used in IT world in almost every country and business. Type “Agile” in LinkedIn job search and you’ll get at least 6 pages of job offers – ranging from consulting companies, IT solutions providers, insurers to international banks and car manufacturers. From the Project Management Institute report, 71% of organizations in 2017 said they “use Agile approach” (sometimes, often or always). According to Google, the popularity of the word “Agile” has been growing constantly year-to-year by about 20% (see chart) for the last 3 years.

The interest in the word agile over the time
The popularity of the word “Agile” (year-to-year), source: Google

But what does it really mean?

Is it that great or is it another trend companies follow just to look innovative and competitive without changing much?

Let’s start with the word itself – agile. Inspired by Dave Thomas’ speech, I found a simple misconception many people working with agility have (including myself). Agile is an adjective, not a proper noun. "Agile" with a capital should mean something very specific, clearly indicated, with boundaries. Like the Statue of Liberty – you can clearly say where it is, what it consists of and what it doesn’t. And here comes the first hint to answering the main question – agility cannot be clearly indicated. Unlike monuments, it is hard to say when it is “done”. Agility is a path to follow, not a goal to reach.

The Principles of Agility

There are some principles however, that can help you in moving towards agility, following its path. In the IT world they can be found in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

To build software in an agile manner, the whole organization must live up to those principles. They don’t belong only on training papers or posters – they must be put into practice on the daily. From my experience and talking with many people involved in or willing to transform their companies to agile working places, there is a common misunderstanding linked to the first point of the Manifesto. Such a change is most of all a cultural change, not a new process to follow (as perceived by some). And it can be a painful one – switching from Taylor’s theory of control and cumulating decisive power (40 levels of approvals included) to full transparency, trust and handing the power over to the teams is hard to implement, sometimes maybe even impossible.

But let’s get back to the questions posed at the beginning of the article. I believe it makes no sense to say, "we are agile" (except for sale purposes maybe – joke of course 😉). There is no checklist or set of elements you can tick, and say "done". Even the points from the Manifesto are too generic to say "yes, we fulfill them". They rather are guidelines to help you work better in order to achieve your business goals in the IT world.

Summary

Agility is not a goal in and of itself. It is something that can help you achieve your business goals. They are the most important things and changing the culture may only help you but won’t deliver any value without the product needed on the market.

I am glad about the growing trend of companies trying to change their way of working. Some transformations might fail, some will be a great success. The most important thing is that the discussion has been sparked and experienced people like me can help at least some organizations to change, grow and create a healthier working environment for everyone.

Leipzig, 03 / 27 / 2019

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