AoAD2 Chapter: Choose Your Agility

This is an excerpt from The Art of Agile Development, Second Edition. Visit the Second Edition home page for additional excerpts and more!

This excerpt is copyright 2007, 2021 by James Shore and Shane Warden. Although you are welcome to share this link, do not distribute or republish the content without James Shore’s express written permission.

Choose Your Agility

There’s no point in Agile for the sake of Agile. Instead, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Will Agile help us be more successful?

  2. What will it take to achieve that success?

When you can answer these questions, you’ll know whether Agile is right for you.

The Agile Fluency Model

In 2014, I partnered with Diana Larsen to analyze why companies see such different results from their Agile teams. We had both worked with Agile teams from the beginning. Over the years, we noticed that they tended to see dramatically different types of results, and those results tended to cluster in different “zones.” We captured these observations in the Agile Fluency Model. A simplified view is shown in the “Agile Fluency Model” figure. [Shore2018b]

A picture of the Agile Fluency Model. It shows a path from “Pre-Agile” through a shift in team culture to “Focusing,” followed by a shift in team skills to “Delivering,” then a shift in organizational structure to “Optimizing,” and finally a shift in organizational culture to “Strengthening.” The path continues and fades away, as if there are additional zones yet to be discovered.

Figure 1. A simplified view of the Agile Fluency Model

Each zone is associated with a set of benefits. To reap those benefits, a team needs fluency in that zone. A team has fluency when they’re able to apply all the skills associated with the zone without conscious effort.

Although the figure shows a straightforward path from one zone to the next, reality is messier. Teams can achieve fluency in any zone, in any order, although the progression in the figure is typical.

The skills needed for fluency are listed in the introductions to Parts II through IV. But fluency isn’t something a team can achieve on its own. Your organization also has to invest in your teams’ fluency. That means more than paying lip service to Agile ideas. It has to make actual, meaningful changes that cost time, money, and political capital.

The results you get from your Agile teams depend on how well your company buys into Agile ideas. When a company fails to achieve the results they want from Agile, it’s usually because they didn’t make the required investments. Often, they don’t even realize what was needed.

Make a conscious choice to invest in agility.

Make a conscious choice to invest in agility. Consider each zone carefully. Each has costs; each has benefits. Choose the ones that have the right cost-benefit trade-offs for your situation.

You probably won’t be able to convince your company to invest in every zone. That’s okay. In contrast to maturity models such as the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), the fluency model doesn’t show a progression from low skill to high skill. Instead, it shows multiple investment/benefit choices. Although the diagram shows the most common progression, each zone may be chosen independently. Each has value on its own.

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In this Section

  1. Choose Your Agility
    1. Sidebar: What Do Organizations Value?
    2. The Agile Fluency Model
      1. Sidebar: Fluency and Maturity
      2. Focusing Zone
      3. Delivering Zone
      4. Optimizing Zone
      5. Strengthening Zone
        1. Sidebar: Summary of Agile Fluency Zones
    3. Choose Your Zones

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