What is Agile?

By Josh Kite, Enterprise Agile Coach, Contributing Expert

There is much of value written about Agile available on the web but be warned… if you’re interested in Agile and you want clarity on what the term represents, searching the web for answers might not be your best approach. Much of the information on the web can lead you off the path to clarity and down a rabbit hole. What follows is a brief overview of Agile that lays the groundwork for additional information and insights.


By the turn of the millenium software experts had experimented with a variety of alternative approaches to software development in response to the industry standard “waterfall” approach, which was cumbersome and required substantial documentation. In February 2001 a group got together in Snowbird Utah to discuss their various “lightweight methods.” They landed on the term “Agile” and the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development” was the product of that meeting. 

At its core, the 68-word manifesto summarizes a set of values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

The manifesto was followed up with twelve principles of software development that put more meat on the bones of the Agile skeleton. When properly adopted, Agile methodologies have proven their value for software development and across the entire organization. However, over the years the concept of Agile has been hijacked by some to offer rigid methodologies that in many cases reflect little of the original founders’ thinking. Meanwhile, some people participate in Agile Holy Wars and are determined to hunt down any approach that is “fake” by their definition of “Agile.” That’s one reason it’s important to understand what Agile represents.

AGILE METHODS AND PRACTICES (sometimes a source of confusion)

While any way of working that is consistent with the Manifesto and the 12 principles can be called “Agile”, a number of methods, frameworks, and practices have become common. A partial list of such Agile methods includes:

  • Scrum
  • Kanban
  • XP (Extreme Programming)

Each of these is worthy of its own paper, but for now, it’s enough to know that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to embracing 

Agile or the tools that help foster its adoption. What works for one organization might not for another. Many factors determine how Agile can be most valuable to a specific organization.

Regardless of the practice, agile methodologies lead to both better predictability and the ability to respond to the need to change – two goals which appear to be at odds with each other. They also lead to happier workers and customers and faster value delivery.


Still growing, declining, or stagnating?

Agile’s penetration of the market is one measure of its health, and indications are that it’s doing well. The Project Management Institute’s annual Pulse of the Profession survey of project management practitioners, senior executives, and project management office (PMO) directors covers a range of industries.