Getting away from “agile” and focusing on “high performance”

02 Apr

I’m tired of the “agile” umbrella term even though I’ve made my career being an agile coach and helping teams adopt and adapt agile practices.

So why am I tired of the term?  Well….  Because the value from using it to help people build better software has decreased over the years.  I’ve seen more and more people “do agile” and “be agile” and be “certified agile” without creating high performance teams or getting results.  (Check out the shallot for a humorous version of why I’m disillusioned with the term.)

So, instead of being agile, I prefer focusing on the results – high performance teams and organizations.  Am I trading one catchy phrase for another?  Yes, in a way I am, but not to build another umbrella term – instead I want to shed the baggage and assumptions that come with “agile” and restart our conversation.

So what do I want to do differently?  Well, it turns out agile practices are neither necessary nor sufficient for high performance.  Many teams practice agile practices and fail to get great results and many teams get great results without doing agile.  So what gives?!

It turns out, that every high-performance team (that I’ve witnessed directly) has a culture (to be read “set of implicit and explicit expectations”) that encourages the performance.  And, furthermore, it turns out that these cultures produce certain common behaviors in individuals.

So, I’m not only tired of hearing “agile”, I don’t think agile is the solution.  Culture and individual human dynamics together are sufficient and necessary for high performance.  What type of culture?  What specific individual behaviors?  I’m still learning – and I’m not sure we – the software community – have it totally figured out.  However, here are a list of ideas that haven’t quite coalesced:

  • Mindset is just as important as, if not more important than actions.
  • Respect – both respecting others and feeling respected helps.  
  • Safety.  Feeling safe is needed for innovation.
  • Succeeding together instead of alone (not a zero-sum game).
  • Taking ownership for the success of the group and the problems that arise.
  • Empirical evidence is frequently assessed and taken seriously.
  • Ability to fail gracefully.

But, I’m far from being happy with this list.  I’m getting much better at helping form and join high-performance teams, but there is more – much more – to learn.  So, my solution?  Get as many smart people together to talk about these things and take notes!

Agile Culture New York hopefully will bring together like-minded individuals and world-class speakers to take help us all answer this question of high performance.

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Posted by on April 2, 2013 in Individuals, Interactions, Teams


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