Quick Summary:

Love is what love does. Agile is what agile does. To some, it may sound cliché in 2022, but it still holds true. And, it will hold true for eternity. Doing vs being is essentially an existential dilemma that has plagued the philosophers, thinkers, writers, poets, and all other sensitive and sensible beings across the world in all the ages.

The only way to make peace with this eternal dilemma is to accept that you cannot do anything thoroughly unless you just be it totally. You cannot love unless you become the love. You cannot practice agile methodology totally unless you become agile totally.

So, what does it mean to be agile in order to be able to do agile? Let us dive straightaway into doing agile vs being agile in 2022 to inquire further and possibly arrive at some clarity.

What is Doing Agile?

Doing agile

“Doing” agile means practicing all the processes and guidelines of agile methodology without understanding or absorbing the rationale and the spirit of these guidelines or processes intellectually, emotionally, and culturally.

When an organization adopts agile software development methodology, it can witness “doing agile” almost overnight. Doing agile, more or less, looks like this:

  • An enterprise has adopted an iterative approach wherein projects are now developed in incremental steps.
  • An enterprise may choose to work with the Kanban board or Scrum framework to manage this iterative approach effectively.
  • An implementation of non-hierarchical team structure.
  • Workload getting divided into themes, epics, user stories, and tasks.
  • Use of various agile estimation techniques such as Grantt charts.
  • Teams doing regular stand-ups for the stipulated time, sharing what they did yesterday and will do tomorrow with a list of possible impediments.
  • Continuously coming up with the list of areas that can be improved in retrospectives.

In a nutshell, doing agile would look like some pompous ceremony wherein everyone has followed a dress code, but no one actually knows why they have been told to dress in a certain way.

Doing agile would feel like everyone is doing everything perfectly well, and yet something is terribly missing along the way. And, no one can actually pinpoint what it is that is seriously missing.

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Challenges of Only Doing Agile

When the teams are just “doing” agile, an enterprise can face challenges during the project development. These challenges typically may look like these:

  • When teams do regular stand-ups just for the sake of doing it, without understanding its true purpose and spirit, it often becomes a mechanical routine of reporting status. It only deals with the details without offering any solid solution, eventually defeating the purpose of agile transformation that the enterprise is aspiring to achieve.
  • Retrospectives are used only to make a list of problems instead of using them as tools to arrive at solutions together and with a sense of ownership.
  • Less confidence among the team members as they barely understand the exact meaning of all the processes that they are doing.
  • A less confident team sans the sense of ownership often creates the product that can bring the expected customer satisfaction, which is the highest goal of agile methodology.
  • When there is so much emphasis on the process and tools, people are often afraid to express themselves and take the lead.
  • A team caught up with the processes, and the tools do not have the mental space to experiment, innovate and think creatively. They just want to prepare the reports and get the job done without any passionate intellectual and emotional involvement with the product.
  • A team may be expected to work collaboratively, and the infrastructure too is redesigned in a way that the team members can sit together and collaborate, but, if they are just in the mode of “doing”, they can hardly collaborate truly even if they are sitting together and talking about the project.

We can again draw an analogy of a ceremony— a marriage ceremony or a religious ceremony or for that matter any ceremony, where things are being performed without understanding its meaning, its significance, its true spirit, and its purpose.

At the best, it may look good on the surface with all the music, fancy clothes, good food, etc., but it may not yield the actual results that are desired.

Similarly, doing agile may look quite glamorous on the surface, but doing only does not help the enterprises achieve the desired business value as well as technological excellence.

What is Being Agile?

Being Agile

“Being” agile means practicing all these processes with deep awareness, understanding, and knowledge of agile principles and values. It is all about living and breathing agile for any enterprise undergoing agile transformation.

It is important to note that knowing or living agile principles and values does not mean memorizing them by heart. It essentially means to absorb the basic principles and values of agile and cultivate a mindset that thinks, feels, and does things in an agile way.

For an enterprise, “being” agile means making its own manifesto based on agile principles and values. For individuals of the enterprise, “being” agile means to perfectly understand both the basic agile principles and values and the customized manifesto of the enterprise, for the enterprise, and by the enterprise.

At a time when new terms such as “modern agile” and “heart of agile” are emerging, “being” agile may typically look like this:

  • During a regular stand-up, at the mention of an impediment, a member or a group of members come forward to solve the impediment instead of just routinely discussing the stuff.
  • Teams work iteratively and incrementally. They constantly receive feedback from customers and often welcome it with openness.
  • Teams spend less time on planning and rely more on creating a minimum viable product of value.
  • Leaders know how to help each team member so that she can grow both as an individual and as a professional.
  • Leaders often provide strategic direction and guidance instead of direct interference in the project development.
  • When there is this room to flourish and express themselves, people are confident to express themselves as they feel safe, valued, and respected.
  • This kind of supportive, empowering, and collaborative atmosphere often results in great products that bring higher customer satisfaction and greater business value.
  • Teams no longer function in silos, but they become cross-functional teams with a sense of ownership and accountability.

Continuing with the previous analogy, “being” agile is like performing the ceremony with total understanding of its significance, purpose, spirit, meaning, and its desired outcome. It is indeed a better space to be in for the practitioners of the agile methodology. It can also be called “walk the talk” which means you exactly do what you say and mean.

Challenges of Only Being Agile

The challenges of only being agile look like talk the talk and not walking the walk. It means you know its values, principles, and processes by heart, but you hardly care to implement it or live it.

For example, an enterprise may have a leadership team with a thorough knowledge of agile methods, principles and values, but, it does not have adequate skills to train the people. In that case, “being” agile proves to be a farce, where everything is in heart and mind, and nothing on the ground!

Doing Agile vs Being Agile in 2022

The major challenge of doing agile vs being agile in 2022 is finding a balance between doing and being. As we saw, it is not just doing that can bring the desired agile transformation. Similarly, it is not just either that can help the enterprise achieve aspired agile transformation.

What could be the way then to bridge the gap between doing and being? What ways to resolve this problem of doing agile vs being agile in 2022?

Ways to Bridge the Gap Between Doing and Being

A popular Zen koan says: “A coin lost in the river is found in the river.” Applying this profound wisdom to the challenges of doing agile vs being agile in 2022, an enterprise can actually resort to the 12 principles of the agile manifesto, and come up with the master manifesto to suit its culture and disposition.

This master manifesto can be different for every enterprise. But, a general customized manifesto may look like this that can help bridge the gap between doing and being:

  • Creating more innovative ways to improve internal processes and communication as part of the teamwork as per the Agile Manifesto’s 12th principle encourages the teams to become more “effective” by reflecting upon how they had functioned in the past.
  • Completely realizing that desired success would surely require willingness to change, innovate, and learn as per the needs of the projects.
  • Creating continuous feedback loops that enable the teams to change the direction as per the project requirement quickly.
  • Creating safe and sustainable ways to welcome and manage the inherent changes that often occur during the software development cycle.
  • Making a cultural change a part of the workstream during agile transformation.

These are some of the ways that can help enterprises bridge the gap between doing and being. The debate between doing agile vs being agile in 2022 can be sorted out effectively only when the key leadership exactly knows what it is do agile and what it is to be agile.

Conclusion

The most common tendency of all those who are active stakeholders in this debate of doing agile vs being agile in 2022 is to consider either one of it as more important than the other.

The truth is both are equally important. Do agile without understanding its true purpose and spirit. You will end up as another cog in the machine that is just there to finish the processes and file the reports without considering their emotional, intellectual and cultural significance.

On the other hand, if you just talk about agile or just know about agile by heart, and do not have the necessary skills or willingness or efficiency in implementing it effectively as well, you would just end up like a pundit who can lecture about how to row a boat. Still, when it floods, he is the first to drown and let others drown as he does not know anything about rowing in real!

Let us then usher into 2022 with a much more balanced and wisdom in our hearts and minds that graciously allow us to see doing agile vs being agile not as a kind of a problem to be solved, but rather a welcoming portal that provides an opportunity to achieve the balance and maintain it for years to come.

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