The Agile Alphabet, Part 1

The world of agile has many terms for concepts, principles, and practices common in the community. Ben Kopel came up with a list of some of the most important words used when practicing agile and organized them into a glossary with one term for every letter of the alphabet. Here's the first half, with A through M.

I have a young daughter, so the alphabet is a big part of my life. I thought it would be fun to create an alphabet with some agile terms that have been on my mind lately. Here is the agile alphabet from A to M.

A is for agile mindset

Agile is not something you buy and install. It’s a mindset: a way of thinking, a way of being, and, usually, a pretty big cultural shift. Holding a daily scrum and transitioning project managers to ScrumMasters does not “make you agile.” You have to live the agile values and principles.

B is for business agility

It seems like a buzzword these days, but business agility is important and can lead to high-performing organizations. Spreading the agile mindset throughout the entire organization can help different departments work better together. Agility enables the organization to adapt to change, become more innovative, and better satisfy customers.

C is for clean language

Clean language is a way of communicating based on not making assumptions; you respond to what was actually said by using the same words to eliminate bias or misinterpretation, instead of going on what you interpreted. It’s an interesting and useful way to frame conversations.

D is for define

When I think of the word define, I think of clarity. Defining what “ready” and “done” mean provide teams with clarity around what should be built. Defining a vision provides clarity for where a company is headed or gives a team an understanding of what the long-term goal is. Defining roles adds clarity about expectations and responsibilities.

E is for emergence

Emergence is allowing ideas to come naturally instead of forcing things. This is something I struggle with at times because I like to plan and can become impatient. But when ideas or solutions do emerge, it can harvest long-lasting results because people tend to be more connected and buy into them more, as opposed to when they are simply told to do something. Emergence requires high levels of trust in individuals, the system, and the team.

F is for feedback

Giving and receiving feedback is critical to improving ourselves, our teams, and our organizations and products. Yet, so often, we become defensive and don’t enter conversations with an open mind. How can we put bias and judgment aside and welcome feedback as a gift? And how can we provide feedback in a way that is constructive, not harmful?

G is for gemba walk

Gemba is a Japanese term meaning “the real place,” so a gemba walk refers to going to where the real work happens and observing it firsthand. If we are trying to optimize the system, we would not make assumptions about how the system flows. We would go to the various places where the work happens, observe, and talk to those doing the work.

H is for healing

I have seen far too much division and divisiveness in the agile community—friendships destroyed, manipulation, untruths, and egos gone wild. It’s unfortunate, and hopefully through communication and understanding, we can bring some much-needed healing to the community.

I is for intent

Piggybacking on healing is intent—specifically, positive intent. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a mindset where we assume positive intent during interactions with others? How could that change the conversation, or the way we interact in that conversation? How would it change the direction and outcome of that conversation?

J is for Jerry and jamming

This refers to Jerry Weinberg and David Hussman (of DevJam), two industry giants who recently passed away. Both had a huge impact on the agile world. I did not know either of them personally, but I have studied their works, learned a lot from them, and heard many stories from people who knew them. To me, this is a reminder to have interesting conversations, learn from people in as many ways as you can, and be curious about life.

K is for kaizen

Kaizen is a Japanese term for improvement. Focusing on continuous improvement is one of the most important things teams can do. Within Scrum, there are events that provide opportunities to inspect and adapt at different levels. I have worked with colleagues to create a continuous improvement board and kaizen meetings at the organizational level, and as an individual, I have a backlog of items to help myself grow as a coach and trainer.

L is for liberating structures

Liberating structures are a group of immersive, collaborative activities and exercises that can be used as alternative ways to facilitate meetings and conversations. They break away from the typical styles such as presentations, status reports, or brainstorming in order to decentralize control and be more inclusive toward empowering those involved.

M is for “Maybe I’m the problem”

When having a conflict or disagreement, I try to take a strong look at whether I’m the problem. It's easy to jump to conclusions and assume that we are right and the other person is wrong and that they need to change their position. But when we take a step back and consider that the problem may lie within, it helps us see another point of view and builds empathy for those we engage with. Try to consider that you may be the problem before you dig your heels in too far.

The second half of the alphabet is coming in the next article. What agile terms resonate with you and your journey?


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