What’s the “Right” Term for an Agile Transition or Transformation?

As I finish the agile project management book (Create Your Successful Agile Project), I am working on what stays in this book and what I use in the agile management book (next up after the PO book).

That leads me to this question: What do you call a transition to agile approaches? Is there a correct term?

Here's what I'm thinking right now and I'm totally open to changing my thinking:

Transition to agile: to me, it means a transition from planning for predictability to planning for predictable deliveries. In other words, it's the delivery of value again and again that allows us to replan again and again. This requires a change in thinking. Maybe I should call this a transition to agile thinking? (Am I the only one who thinks this way?)

Agile transformation: We transform the organization to working and thinking in an agile way. We transform the culture. For me, this is such a big idea, I don't see it happening. I don't even think I know what it totally means. On the other hand, agile approaches are a cultural shift from how people thought and how they organized to new ways of thinking and organizing.

Agile adoption: To me, this is about adopting an agile mindset and values. On the other hand, I've seen too much bounce-back when people (especially managers) talk about agile adoption. They tend to think of agile approaches as yet another project management life cycle.

Do you use another term? Do you find its baggage acceptable? Please let me know what you think the “right” term is for an agile transition or transformation. Thank you!

10 Replies to “What’s the “Right” Term for an Agile Transition or Transformation?”

  1. Johanna,

    I like adaptation. Adoption always feels like you are just doing what others have done before, like best practices. Transformation is a little too big for it’s britches, with some sense​ of we all do “it” the same, which never happens. I like transition, because it has a sense of movement and temporality. But I think that adaptation is closer to the spirit of agile thinking, and continuous adaptation is the mature form.

  2. 2nd and 3rd attempts at an organization invariably drop the word Agile. SunTrust now has Business Accelerator. Equifax has Catalyst. Unum has Journeys. I was thinking of making a lighting round talk with names like this and why. There have to be hundreds more out there. Would love to hear from folks.

    1. Paul, those names are reasonable. I like Business Accelerator because it has a hint of results in the name. I would love to hear your lightning talk!!

      One of the problems with a big change is when managers name it. I wrote about that in Three Tips for Artisanal Change.

  3. I always have a problem when Agile is in the title. I think that it makes Agile the goal vs. what problem an organization was trying to solve when they decided Agile would help them get there. I think it leads to the facination with frameworks being the short cut. I’m playing with the idea of community building as a generic term leaving the original goal of the org as the community they are trying to build.

    1. Guy, I like that idea of community-building. Very nice. Hope you publish about that.

      As I start (slowly) to write the management book, I’m focusing on results and talking about what results the org needs. In my experience, not enough managers focus on the results they want. They focus too much on process. There are reasons for that, so it’s not their fault.

  4. I try not to use Agile as a noun because then it’s about the brand; adjectives are less ominous. I use the phrases “Agile methods” and “Established methods.” Thus, I would call for a “Transition to Agile methods.”

    If I could convince the Agile community to make just one change, it would be to quit using the term “Waterfall.” Ever hear the Faux Noise Channel propaganda peddlers use the word “liberal” in that condescending tone of voice to disparage whoever isn’t a member of their tribe? That’s what “Waterfall” sounds like outside the Agile echo chamber. Good ideas don’t depend on epithets for contrast; they can stand on their own merits.

    1. Dave, in my upcoming book, the Prags told me (handed down from Dave Thomas) I could not say “agile” as a noun. It had to be an adjective. That one change forced me to be more specific. I’m quite happy about it. I used agile approaches as my phrase because not all approaches are methods. (Let’s nit-pick!!)

      I prefer not to use the word waterfall. I more often say “serial” or “phase-gate” as descriptions. (I lost that battle in the Agile Practice Guide. Oh well.)

      I have used serial life cycles and they were quite successful for the projects I used them for. I have used phase gate to good effect also. (I wrote about that in Manage It!)

      I agree with you. If you have a good idea it stands on its own. You don’t need to disparage other ideas or forms. I sometimes have trouble when I draw a contrast. There are some supposedly agile frameworks that are not sufficiently adaptable for me. I don’t use them or recommend them. I do try not to disparage them. I don’t always succeed.

  5. I tend to avoid the word agile. But when i do use it it is not as a noun. Like in becoming agile. I prefer to use agility, as I believe it’s an ability that has to be built up, exercised, honed and maintained.

    1. Franky, I love the idea that agility is an ability you can learn and practice so you can hone and maintain it. Wow, I’ll credit you for this in the management book. Thank you!

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