What is Agile? – Part 3/3

This week I read the blog post “What is Agile?” by Simon Powers. It’s a great article that answers the question perfectly and offers a nice visualization that shows the scale of Agile. Earlier on I wrote two articles that tried to answer the same question. The article “What is Agile? – Part 1/3” contains the most common definitions. The article “What is Agile? – Part 2/3” offers the 7 principles of Continuous Innovation and the video by the Nordstrom Innovation Lab that put’s the Agile mindset into practice.

The blog post by Simon Powers triggered me to write a third blog post that contains the visualization with the different layers to explain Agile. By reading these three articles you might have a good overview of what Agile is all about.

Source: What is Agile? By Simon Powers

Tools, Processes and Practices

Many organizations start their Agile journey by implementing tools & processes. Often these are tools for managing the Product Backlog. Or they setup a process in which teams start doing a daily standup or bi-weekly planning session. These tools & processes are frequently part of practices (frameworks, methodologies) like Scrum, XP or Kanban. Using these tools, processes and practices are a great start in your Agile journey. They can help you “do agile”. But it shouldn’t be the end-state. Remember: “the value of Agile is not in its practices or processes, but in the mindset shift that develops individual core competencies to be adaptive, transparent, collaborative and responsive”. – Dan Teo

Agile is about people, not processes

Principles and Values

The true possibilities of Agile will appear when you focus on the underlying principles and values. Because you can do all the practices perfectly, and still fail at Agile! Therefore you should take into account:

  • “While Agile and Scrum practices are important, practices alone often lead to Agile failure. Agile principles and changing of the software development culture are generally the harder parts, but they are what make Agile sustainable in the long run and maximise the great benefits it has to offer.”
  • “Real agile transformation is about establishing a culture that embraces open communication and collaboration between business and technical people across the enterprise. It’s about continuous improvement through inspection and adaption, and a culture of transparency and accountability.”
  • “Principles might seem common sense, but common sense is in reality, not very common.” (quotes are part of the article “principles over practices” by Dwight Kingdon)

The Agile Mindset

When the organization as a whole truly embraces the Agile mindset they are not only “doing Agile” but it’s really about “being Agile”. Having an Agile mindset means it’s all about…

  • Creating engagement by providing purpose and vision;
  • Understanding that people come first, even before product and process;
  • Fostering an environment of trust at all levels in the organization;
  • Continuous inspection and adaptation and having the ability to respond to change;
  • Early and frequent delivery of value to (internal or external) customers;
  • Building solid relationships with customers that result in win-win situations;
  • Continuous learning and experimentation in a fail-friendly environment;
  • Creating agility by delegating the operational decision power to the operational level;
  • Doing the work in empowered, self-organizing teams;
  • Focusing on transparency, be totally open about impediments to improvement;
  • Interactively sharing stories, questions and conversations;
  • Always asking for feedback, so what am I missing? 🙂

Organizations that embrace such an Agile mindset are the ones that have the necessary agility to cope with all the challenges the 21th century offers. Challenges related to the VUCA world we are part of. A world with a high rate of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In such a world organizations need to have an Agile mindset that helps them not only to respond to change but to become the change catalyst themselves!


This article is the third part of the series “What is Agile?”. In the first part I offer the most common definitions used to describe Agile. The second part contains the 7 principles of Continuous Innovation and the video by the Nordstrom Innovation Lab that put’s the Agile mindset into practice. In this third part I explain the different levels of Agile. Starting with tools, processes and practices. Resulting in an Agile mindset when the values and principles are truly embraced.

My sources?

I’ll be honest: I read a lot of articles and books about Agile. While reading I continuously write down quotes I like. Often these quotes are used in my blog posts including the original source. However, sometimes I don’t know the original source anymore or I’m not even aware of using stuff someone else wrote. It’s a consequence of continuously studying, thinking, processing etc. To be sure: while writing the series “What is Agile?” I – among other things – read the stuff of Stephen Denning, Martin Olesen, Henrik Kniberg, Gill Broza, Simon Powers and Michael Spayd.

I hope you enjoy the result!