What is Agile?

There are so many different definitions of agile, but in my own experience and based on all the blog posts, articles, and so forth that I have read, agile really boils down to a single concept.


The ability to inspect data, feedback, and evidence with the intention of identifying how you need to adapt what you are doing to effectively respond to what is most needed and valuable.

In my own words, ‘the ability to capitalize on change rather than fall victim to change.’

Capitalizing on change.

In my experience, if you and your business can grow your agile capabilities to the point where you can actively capitalize on change, then you are set to thrive in any future endeavours.

When you are able to view change, uncertainty, and complexity as an opportunity rather than a threat; and leverage your adaptive capabilities to create and capture competitive advantage for your organization, you have achieved true business agility.

So, agile is as much a shift in organizational culture and mindset as it is a shift in how you work and what tools you use to perform that work.

The birth of Agile

Agile was born in software environments, where software engineers became increasingly frustrated with the limitations of traditional project management and wanted to create their own frameworks for dealing with uncertainty, complexity, and delivering value to customers.

Complex problem solving.

Agile is a product of a group of engineers who wanted an effective way to solve complex problems and create complex solutions.

In a simple environment, such as transporting bricks, you know all the answers upfront, and you know the best way to perform the work. In a complex environment, you have never solved the problem or built the solution before, so there is no best practice and there is no guaranteed way to achieve the outcome you most value.

You must create it. You must invent it. You must discover it. (Maybe use ‘have to’ instead of ‘must’?)

So, you must (‘have to’ here too?) start doing the work before you know the answer or best way forward. It is only through doing the work that you learn, gather data and feedback, and acquire evidence that what you are doing is working.

As you run more experiments and better understand the problem you are trying to solve, you gain better insights into what hypothesis you should develop next and where that may potentially lead you.

Although agile was born in the world of software development, it evolved because we realized agile is simply a better way of solving complex problems and building complex solutions.

In every industry, from Energy (just because Oil & Gas itself is rebranding to ‘energy’ 🙂 ) to Banking and Financial Investments, agile has proven itself as the preferred and most effective way to navigate complexity and uncertainty.

Agile Frameworks

The rise and popularity of agile frameworks such as Scrum, kanban, and so forth is because agile has proved so effective, as an approach to product development and problem solving, since its inception in 2001.

The Agile Manifesto, developed by a group of 17 forward thinking software engineers, guides us through the maze of complexity using values and principles rather than prescribed steps, like you would find in a project management framework.

Scrum, by a wide margin, is the most practiced agile framework today – and has proven so popular that many people think agile and SScrum are the same thing.

Scrum is a lightweight agile framework that enables a Scrum team to create and deliver products that truly delight customers, using agile values and principles, and empiricism, to inform what the team should be focusing on at any moment in time.

So, an agile framework is a tool to help you embrace empiricism, and agile, and leverage that approach to solve complex problems and build complex solutions. A framework isn’t a philosophy. Scrum doesn’t solve problems for you, neither does any other agile framework, it simply reveals problems and provides you with a framework to resolve those impediments and develop a solution.

Agile applications

Some people think that Agile is a silver bullet, it isn’t, it’s simply a tool.

In many ways, it is like everyone in the world had a hammer and viewed every problem as a nail until agile came along. Now, they have a screwdriver and can achieve better outcomes, with greater precision, in shorter spaces of time because they aren’t using brute force to solve complex problems.

So, now you have a lot of people wanting to buy a new tool, and they think that agile will solve every problem if they simply apply it to the problems and challenges they encounter. It won’t. It wasn’t designed to solve every problem, only complex ones.

If you know how to build a bridge well, and you’ve done that a thousand times before, you don’t need agile to solve the complicated problems you encounter. Traditional project management will do a great job of that because a team of experts can quickly figure out the best solution.

It is only when you encounter complex problems that agile comes into its own.

It is only when a team of experts cannot know the answer upfront, and must actively discover the best way forward, that agile really lends itself well to that application.

How has agile changed the game?

Agile has provided us with the right tool for the right job.

Before, we blindly hit out with our hammer in the hope that we could make the square pegs fit in the round holes, but now we are able to tackle complex problems and develop complex solutions even if we have never encountered the problem before and don’t know all the variables that may impact the success of our venture.

Instead of stumbling around in the dark, we now have a torch that allows us to navigate that uncertainty and gather data, feedback, and evidence which informs our decisions moving forward.

That means we can consistently achieve greater outcomes and better results with a lot less time, effort, and cost than we did before.

Because agile embraces a culture of continuous improvement, we are constantly looking for ways to improve and implement those changes on a regular basis. Small changes that produce exponentially greater outcomes as they compound over time.

Why do I recommend Agile to others?

If the problem you are trying to solve requires a screwdriver, use the screwdriver.

If you are working in a complex environment and need an approach that allows you to consistently and effectively navigate complexity, agile is the perfect tool in your toolbox.

There are several great agile frameworks, such as Scrum and kanban, that have proved effective in multiple applications, in multiple countries, and across multiple cultures. You don’t need to start from scratch. Simply adopt an agile framework that you think best suits your unique application, and it will get you started on your path to cultivate and nurture agility in your environment.

Whichever framework I am working with, I’m a huge fan of the Scrum values.

  1. Commitment.
  2. Courage.
  3. Focus.
  4. Openness.
  5. Respect.

They never fail.

 The Scrum values, in alignment with agile values and principles, are a powerful way to build high-performance team environments – where employee satisfaction rivals customer satisfaction because of how we come together to do the work of delivering value.

You don’t even need to adopt an agile framework to succeed with agile if you simply practice empiricism (transparency, inspection, adaptation) and align your mindset and team culture with agile values and principles.

Just do that and you’ll already see significant improvement in your environment.

About Pragmatic Shift

Pragmatic Shift is a Scrum Training, Agile Consulting, and Agile Coaching consultancy that specializes in delivering Scrum.Org certified Scrum courses, and helping organizations increase their business agility and product development success through agile consulting and coaching.

We firmly believe that a shift to agile is a pragmatic shift.

A natural evolution from traditional project management and product management. A proven, reliable, and resilient framework for addressing compelling problems and developing complex solutions.

Over a decade’s worth of experience as an agile practitioner, agile consultant, agile coach, and Scrum trainer informs our pragmatic approach to change. Agile dogma has no value in the context of product development or organizational change.

Instead, we look to start where you are, work with what you have, and make meaningful interventions that align with the objectives you are trying to achieve.

Progress over perfection.

If this sounds like a pragmatic solution to you, visit the following pages for more information.

Scrum Training: https://pragmaticshift.com/training/

Agile Consulting: Coming Soon!

Agile Coaching: Coming Soon!

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