The Agile Alphabet, Part 2


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 second half, with N through Z.

In my last article, I started an agile alphabet of terms commonly used when working in agile frameworks. This article finishes the alphabet.

N is for neuroscience

Neuroscience seeks to understand the human brain and how it functions, including how we learn. If we can better understand how humans learn, we can adapt our approaches to training, communicating, providing feedback, and all sorts of other interactions, which can help us more effectively deliver new concepts, build high-performing teams, and develop more empathy for one another.

O is for OpenSpace

OpenSpace Agility is a meeting format that invites participants to gather for a discussion, create agendas, and choose what topics to spend their time and energy discussing. It encourages emergence and self-organization of ideas, and it’s often used at agile conferences.

P is for personal care

How often do you put others’ needs before your own? How often do you feel burned out and continue to behave in a way that adds fuel to the fire, leading to more burnout? Personal care is the idea that in order to help and support others, you must help and support yourself first.

Q is for quality

Quality is often overlooked and undervalued on agile teams. We trade short-term “wins” for long-term instability. We take shortcuts to hit a deadline and end up having a codebase that is fragile, unmanageable, and fraught with technical debt. We need to change the conversation to focus on quality and the idea that sometimes, we need to go slow in order to go fast.

R is for Radical Candor

Radical Candor is a framework for giving feedback based on a graph with “Care personally” and “Challenge directly” as its axes. This creates the quadrants of Ruinous Empathy, when you care but don’t challenge, giving praise or criticism that isn’t constructive; Manipulative Insincerity, when you neither care nor challenge, giving unclear praise or criticism; Obnoxious Aggression, when you challenge but don’t care, giving praise or criticism unkindly; and, finally, the ideal Radical Candor: saying what you think while still caring about the person receiving the feedback. We should seek to provide Radical Candor in order to communicate effectively.

S is for Scrum

I have always been a proponent of Scrum, but over the past couple of years I have seen teams overlook the basics of Scrum and believe they are more mature than they actually are. I often hear people provide excuses for why the manager needs to tell the team what to do, or why the ScrumMaster should be an enforcer for hitting the deadline, or why we only need to do retrospectives once per quarter because "everything is fine." It can be really hard to practice Scrum because of ingrained behaviors or organizational constraints, but Scrum has been proven to be very effective, so if we can focus on overcoming those challenges, we will be able to increase the delivery of customer value.

T is for Training from the Back of the Room

This is a training technique where participants learn using the four C’s: connections, where participants try to connect with the topic based on what they think they know; concepts, where participants receive direct instruction from the presenter about the topic; concrete practice, where participants do exercises or discuss topics to get a more thorough understanding of the material; and conclusions, where participants summarize what they have learned and how they will put the learnings into action, proving that they have absorbed the material.

U is for users

Too often teams and organizations get caught up in the details about process or the constraints of  software tools and forget about the users. Users are who we build products for, so let's try to get as close to them as possible, shorten feedback loops, and understand what would delight them.

V is for value

I’ve had a lot of different work streams lately that have made it difficult to focus, so I’ve been thinking a lot about being lean and eliminating waste. When you’re short on time and have a lot of competing priorities, making sure to focus on items that are adding value is crucial. If it’s not adding value, should we be doing it?

W is for WAIT

I learned about this acronym at an Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching class. It stands for Why Am I Talking? It's great for those of us—like me—who could improve their listening skills. If I truly want to hear what another person is saying so that I can be fully present and understand, instead of just  thinking about what I’m going to say next, I need to WAIT.

X is for XP

X is for XP, because what else starts with X? But seriously, more agile teams should focus on Extreme Programming and bringing more technical practices back into the agile world. I believe that more teams could benefit from pair programming, coding standards, continuous integration, and test-driven development.

Y is for “Yes, and …”

Years ago in an improv class with the famed Second City group, I learned the “Yes, and” communication technique. Simply saying “no” is a great way to kill an idea or shut someone down. A close second to that is “Yes, but.” Even if you disagree with something, you can use “Yes, and” to object but keep the conversation going. It’s a helpful tool in keeping discussions alive and building on ideas.

Z is for Zen

In the past couple of years, I have been much more focused on meditation and inner calmness as a way to focus. It helps block out distractions, and I become more in tune with my goals and priorities, take my mind off my hectic schedule, and recenter.

What words would you use in your agile alphabet?


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