Agility is Everywhere / by Kwasi Owusu-Asomaning

I have had this article written for a while and haven’t gone round to publishing it so I thought, better late than never. I have also not changed my language and thoughts from 2016 and I can see how I would have re-written this article differently but I'll leave this as is, as I track my own improvement and experience.

To compensate for how late this article is to publish, picture yourself sat in your cozy sofa at home on your tablet or PC and it is 7th of January 2016…Here goes.


It was early January 2016 and I was sat listening to a sermon on New Year resolutions. I realised how familiar it all sounded and it got me thinking. New Year resolutions, aren’t these essentially retrospective actions from the previous year? How we lived the year and how we could have done better to improve ourselves. This got me thinking; is Agility actually all around us? Is the mind-set of continuous delivery and improvement happening without people paying too much attention to it? I believe the answer is yes! This stuff we call Agility is everywhere! 

Take an example of doing the laundry. To me this is a tedious chore and so my tendency is to leave the laundry basket overflowing – this has now become my Product Backlog - un-prioritised, un-sorted (whites, darks, easy-bleed colours etc). One Saturday morning, after a verbal kicking from my significant half, I decide to prioritise and do my whites first because I need a shirt for Monday morning. Take this as my sprint backlog, I am committing to doing all that is necessary to have a white shirt fully laundered by Monday.

So I take the dirty clothes into the sprint – putting them into the washing machine, adding softener and all manner of soaps I trust will make my clothes clean and smell scrumptious. We can call this my sprint cycle of 2 hours and 30 minutes wash and tumble dry. Within this period there is the occasional check to see if washing is done or anything has gone wrong with the wash etc. Call this my stand-ups. When this cycle is finished, I have potentially wearable whites and have delivered on my commitments/forecasts to have them ready for Monday. I can then show off to my significant half that I have done the laundry and I haven’t turned all the whites into flamingo pink shirts – call that my sprint review and celebrating success. Closing the loop I will most likely be answering questions from my partner as to which soap I used? How much load did I put in? Couldn’t I have added more? Or did you really put all that load into the machine? And I would have agreed with her and learnt from it. Call that “The wife-retrospective ceremony”.

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Another illustration we can use is cooking. Take for example making a spaghetti Bolognese – call that your Product Vision. You wouldn’t put all your ingredients including the spaghetti into one bowl and expect a deliciously made meal now would you?

You’ll make the Bolognese sauce – Iteration 1. Taste it and add more salt and other tweaks to make it your own. Whilst doing that, hot water will be heating to make the spaghetti – Iteration 2. The water boils, you add spaghetti and allow to cook. Then drain the spaghetti from the water – Iteration 3.

It all comes together when you combine the sauce and the pasta to produce your Product Vision – in this case Spaghetti Bolognese. We can argue about my cooking skills later. This dictates some degree of Kanban to me; Visualise the work – spaghetti Bolognese as end goal with all ingredients laid out on work surface. Limit Work in progress – Bolognese sauce first, spaghetti next. Focus on Flow – depends on how hungry you are and how quick you want it ready. If you are like me, you probably have everything on high heat and burn it all. Finally, Continuous Improvement – tasting as you go along, adding seasoning to make it better, checking spaghetti to make it al dente if that is the customer’s requirement. There is an argument for having multiple hobs to cook items simultaneously but you get the drift.

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Image reference

The point I am making is that Agility is everywhere and the different frameworks under the Agile umbrella are used in different environments and you choose it based on the value add that needs to be delivered.

Scrum is by far the most popular of the Agile frameworks and widely practised. Agile ideals are more of a common sense approach to the old 20th century methods of working that was non-collaborative and non-engaging. Nowadays we see a vast need for cognitive ability to produce anything innovative and of value to customers. One approach is to adopt Agile values and principles. I am a true believer in the Stacey Matrix and in knowing what framework to use for your domain and requirements.

As a coach and trainer, my aim is to continually serve my teams, individuals and organisations, teach, learn, lead by example and take pride in helping them reach their potential.

Agile accelerates product delivery, improves collaboration between teams and with customers (both internal and external) and employee motivation. It increases productivity because the team is engaged and involved sprint to sprint. There is a sense of purpose and being part of a bigger thing. Customers and organisations become confident of delivery. Agile concepts allow the team and the organization to respond effectively to customer and industry priority changes. The beauty of continuous improvement in an Agile environment is identifying opportunities to streamline work and reduce waste, ultimately delivering value to our customers faster without compromising quality.

Remember when you had a really liked someone special to you, flirted a lot, had wonderful times together, then you both agreed to call it a ‘relationship’. Most often when it begins to become a ‘thing’ you start to make extra effort. The human mind is a wonderful thing. As soon as we put a name to something, we begin to over think it. We over complicate it and in doing so make this simple, common sense thing of Agility a very difficult thing to achieve.

Agile transformation is about a mind-set paradigm shift. A completely different way of thinking. The processes and ceremonies around any Agile framework are just enablers.

This is just my day to day observations of how Agility is all around us without people realising. Next time you are on the chores, politely asked by the wife or girlfriend, think how you may be invoking your inner Agile mindset without even realising it.