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The difference between doing Agile and being Agile

Agile is a hugely popular methodology in project management, incorporating a number of popular frameworks. According to Digital.ai’s 14th Annual State of Agile report, 95% of the 1,121 survey respondents said their organizations “practice Agile development methods.” 

But does this mean they are truly Agile organizations? A company can use Agile processes to manage projects, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that employees have fully embraced the Agile philosophy. It could just mean they are doing Agile rather than actually being Agile. Let’s take a closer look at the difference between the two.

Doing Agile

If you are “doing Agile,” that means you have implemented Agile processes into your organization in some way. You have adopted an iterative approach to your projects, breaking each one down into incremental steps to manage them more effectively.

You may have opted to manage your Agile workflow with a Kanban board, limiting work-in-progress tasks to reduce bottlenecks and accelerate delivery. Alternatively, you might have chosen to work within the Scrum framework, using specific terms such as ‘sprints’ and ‘Scrum master.’

An organization that is doing Agile will have adopted an Agile team structure, which is non-hierarchical and includes roles such as product owner. Teams will be small, cross-functional, and collaborative. Agile teams will divide their workload into themes, epics, user stories, and tasks. They will use Agile estimation techniques and tools such as Gantt charts to plan their Agile projects.

Being Agile

Being Agile incorporates the above activities, but it requires going the extra mile: applying an Agile mindset to all areas of your business. This Agile outlook means you can adapt to change quickly and are always willing to learn something new.

To be considered fully Agile, your organization must undergo an Agile transformation. In this transformation, every employee must embrace the teachings of the Agile Manifesto. This doesn’t mean mindlessly following guidelines and viewing them as a tick-box exercise — true Agile practitioners are inspired by the core values and principles of Agile and are fully committed to incorporating them into their everyday practices.

Doing Agile vs. being Agile

Being Agile requires a lot more effort and commitment than doing Agile. Time is a key differentiator here — it can take years to fully become Agile. 

If you are accustomed to a traditional project management style such as Waterfall, being Agile will require a full brain reset. You must rid yourself of the notion that a top-down approach is the only way to get work done and instead add a layer of flexibility to your working practices. 

Being Agile is the far superior option to doing Agile. As Steve Denning notes in Forbes, organizations that implement Agile processes but don’t operate with an Agile mindset are simply engaging in “fake Agile” or doing Agile in name only. It isn’t enough to just “do” Agile — you must have an Agile mindset.