How do I know my team is practicing Agile?

Article initially published on Softvision Insights

There are ten types of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don’t (1).

If you’re in the first category, you probably laughed when you saw the question in the title. It’s like someone asking you if you could read, or speak. Doing Agile, as well as the term itself, has become so common in the tech world, that you’re probably intrigued when someone does not do Agile.

If you’re in the second category, things don’t look so trivial anymore. You could be an entrepreneur that has a vision, you could be a business person that somehow needs to work directly with a tech contractor, or you could have some connection to the software world, but you learned the hard way that there are some questions you just need to ask.

When I received a couple of years ago the title question, from one of my potential customers, many ideas started spinning around in my head: How will I work with this person if they do not understand what we’re doing here? How aggressive will the team perceive them in their desire to understand the bits and pieces of software lifecycle deeply? What do they actually mean by this question? And many more.

And then it struck me: this person, that circumstances placed in front of me with the intention to start a partnership, had a problem. And I was going to be the one to solve it.

Let’s rewind a bit. What can you reply to someone when they ask, “How do I know if my team is doing Agile?”

You can talk about sprints when people are running towards a concrete goal, about retrospectives when we praise ourselves for the good parts and we learn from the bad parts, about planning and backlog, about integrating work continuously, about daily moments when people stand up so they’re uncomfortable enough to have a quick meeting, about building daily and testing daily, about charts that are burning down in glory, about bugs that are jumping from one grasshopper to another, about people telling epic stories, about the short and long iterations, about extreme things such as programming while producing crystal clear deliverables, while unifying processes in a rational way, and many many more (2). What will the other person hear? Words that sound like Chinese to a European, a Philosopher’s speech to a regular person, like the latest space scientist’s discovery to a Literature teacher.

Years ago, when I received this question from a potential customer, I took several seconds to let this storm of thoughts calm down. And then I answered: “How will you know we’re doing Agile? You’ll know because we’ll do it together.”

I still have the customer.

(1) “10” in binary notation equals “2” in deciare notation. Common joke between the software engineers to mark the difference between them and the rest of the world.
(2) This paragraph is using several keywords that represent Agile Scrum flavors (such as Extreme Programming, Crystal, Rational Unified Process) or methodology ceremonies (such as daily stand-up, sprint, backlog, retrospective, etc.) and terms (such as bug, user story, epic, iteration, build, test, etc.).