Agile best practice

7 min read

Being Agile vs Doing Agile

Mon Apr 11 2022
Hayley Rodd
Written by Hayley Rodd, Partner Manager

Being agile vs doing agile – what’s the difference?

Organizations around the world have recognized the need to respond rapidly to meet the challenges of constant change. As a result, they’re racing to adopt agile ways of working, with the pandemic accelerating agile adoption.

Those who get it right can make a powerful impact on their bottom line and their competitive edge. But for others, the benefits may yet to be seen.

This is where ‘doing agile’ versus ‘being agile’ can make all the difference. Because to truly reap the benefits of agile methodology, organizations need to shift from doing to being.

This article will explain the difference between being agile vs doing agile. Plus, we’ll take you through some of the common challenges many organizations face in their agile journey.

Key points

  • To realize the full potential of agile ways of working, teams must cultivate an agile mindset as well as adopt agile processes.
  • Moving from ‘doing agile’ to ‘being agile’ takes time, coaching, and a new approach to management.
  • Done right, being agile can amplify customer satisfaction, employee engagement, growth, and profitability.

Why agile, and why now?

Agile had already been rising in popularity for over 20 years, but once the pandemic hit, this growth accelerated.

Across every industry, being able to deliver digital experiences is now crucial. Organizations now need to act and think like software companies, with a laser focus on the customer’s online experience. Together with an active approach to finding customers, you need to deliver real value to stand out from competitors.

For organizations looking to survive - and thrive - in this environment, many are turning to agile frameworks to rapidly add customer value and drive business results. Being agile allows teams to:

  • Make the complex simple – by working within a clear, structured framework, chaos turns to order.
  • Maintain a clear overview – agile teams have a shared understanding of their progress towards their goals.
  • Replicate success – if a team finds an effective way to deliver results, they can repurpose and share solutions across the organization.
  • Create an aligned, purposeful culture – when hundreds of people across one organization form dozens of agile teams, they build a stable backbone, walking the same path towards the same goal.

"Agile organizations, viewed as living systems, have evolved to thrive in an unpredictable, rapidly changing environment. These organizations are both stable and dynamic. They focus on customers, fluidly adapt to environmental changes, and are open, inclusive, and nonhierarchical; they evolve continually and embrace uncertainty and ambiguity. Such organizations, we believe, are far better equiped than traditional ones for future."

- McKinsey & Company

What does it mean to be agile?

Many organizations incorporate a few agile processes to manage projects. But that doesn’t mean teams have fully understood and embraced the agile methodology. It could be that they’re ‘doing agile’ rather than actually ‘being agile’.

Here’s the difference between the two:

Doing agile

‘Doing agile’ is the misconception that if you do agile things your company will become agile and responsive to change. Organizations that have fallen into this trap may go through the motions of some agile processes, such as daily stand-ups, sprints, and retrospectives. Teams are structured to be small, cross-functional, and collaborative. But by stopping there, those teams don’t become truly agile and they may struggle to see results.

While agile ceremonies, tools, and structures are critical in implementation, they are only part of what makes an organization agile.

Being agile

‘Being agile’ means you incorporate the above activities but go beyond the processes. This means applying an agile mindset and agile values to all areas of the organization. Teams will need training to master the agile mindset and push through any challenges along the way. It takes more time and effort than simply doing agile, but it’s critical if you want to reap the benefits.

What’s an agile mindset?

Embracing an agile mindset means understanding and living its four core values. To be agile, you need to:

  1. Respect people - Recognize that people are critical to the success of your organization. Ensure people share common goals, feel safe and empowered to share ideas, and adopt a ‘we’ versus ‘I’ mentality.
  2. Optimize flow - Build in quality at each increment so you can identify issues and course-correct early. This helps maximize value and minimize waste while creating a consistent, sustainable flow of work.
  3. Encourage innovation - Foster experimentation with collaboration, constructive feedback, and autonomy. Schedule time and space for creativity and ideas to flow.
  4. Relentlessly improve - Keep in mind that there is no endpoint with the agile mindset. It’s about continuous improvement, so you need to continually reflect and improve future processes as part of an ongoing practice.

To take these values and make them the foundation of working across your organization, you need to combine agile processes with an agile mindset. Without the agile mindset, you’re not ‘being agile’, and your processes won’t deliver your organization’s full potential.

"The agile mindset is a thought process that involves undersatdning, collaborating, learning, and staying flexible to achieve high-performing results. By combining the agile mindset with processes and tools, team can adapt to change and deliver incremental value to their customers."

- Atlassian

Agile processes and tools aren’t enough

Agile processes, including the ceremonies, tools, and apps, are there to support the mindset of the team. But without getting the mindset right across your organization, you won’t be truly agile.

Fostering the agile mindset gives an organization the ability to rapidly move in any given direction at any given time to deliver the best value to customers. Teams who’ve mastered agile are usually:

  • Autonomous and empowered to make decisions around the product and customer experience.
  • Able to adapt to change quickly.
  • Always willing to learn something new.

Engaged with a shared purpose and collaborative culture.

"It's about being able to pivot to change. Whether that's in terms of people, or resources or budget - whatever that looks like for an organization. If you're able to quickly shift from one area of focus to another before your competitor does, then you have a competitive advantage in the market."

- Sean Blake, Head of Marketing, Easy Agile

Common challenges to look out for as you move from doing agile to being agile

The sooner you can act and move from doing agile towards being agile, the sooner your customers, employees, and your bottom line will benefit.

Here are a few common challenges and tips to overcome them.

  • People might hold onto old habits
    People find change hard, especially when habits are ingrained. You might find some people dig their heels in, clinging to the old way of doing things. It’s important to remember it can take time, and people will need support to learn new ways of working. Be sure to bring in plenty of opportunities for feedback and discussion so you can reiterate as a team to find a process that works for your organization.
  • It’s not just the team who needs to be coached
    Being agile is a mindset for the entire organization, including managers and executives. If your leaders don’t understand and support agile, it will be hard to get traction and shift old processes and hierarchies. Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches need to spend time coaching leaders to develop new agile mindsets and capabilities.
  • For many organizations, being agile requires a new style of management
    The traditional command-and-control management style may have worked in the industrial age. But now it’s a mismatch for the way organizations and people need to work today, and it doesn’t support the agile mindset. To be agile, teams need the trust, autonomy, and ability to take an idea through to execution without any roadblocks. Senior executives must get behind this multifaceted cultural-transformation effort for this to happen.

Are you ready to be agile?

Moving beyond agile processes to scale an agile mindset across an organization isn’t something you can tackle overnight. It takes time, effort, training, and leadership support to internalize agile values and move beyond the command mindset of the past.

You may face challenges along the way, you’ll discover there’s always more to learn, and you must be agile in your adoption of agile.

But the prize for true agility is significant, including increasing customer satisfaction, boosting employee engagement, and improving productivity - making it well worth the investment.

Agility helps modern organizations thrive through change in an uncertain and unpredictable world. For most of us, it’s no longer a desirable way of working - it’s essential.

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