I Know When I See It

24 stycznia 2013


In Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964), the US Supreme Court was forced to make an important decision about a steamy love scene in a French film shown in an Ohio art house theater. The case was whether or not the scene could be defined as „obscene”, and thus outside the bounds of the US Constitution. The judges ultimately agreed that the scene wasn’t racy enough to be called obscene, but they also could not quite define what exactly makes something obscene. The nine justices produced four different opinions on the definition, suggesting that the definition of obscene is truly objective. Among the many discussions, Justice Potter Stewart gave the most direct answer.

„I shall not today attempt… to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within [that definition]… But I know it when I see it.”

„Agile” is as hard to define as „obscene”. You cannot truly say what is agile until you see it. Some people try to reduce agile to just to a few, more or less, dummy „You’re not agile if…” rules, though such lists are never complete. You cannot legalistically describe the agile process, as it is itself a philosophy for every human endeavor. It’s not a list of prescribed regulations that, when applied correctly, will determine whether you’re agile or not.

Agile, as a philosophy, manifests itself in many methods: Extreme Programming, Scrum, FDD and others. All of these methods grew out of the same values and principles described in the Agile Manifesto: an approach of openness to (but not limited to) failing better, interpersonal communication, team work, creativity, transparency and self-organization. The agile philosophy is the realization of these living values and the reflection upon this.

The conscious elaboration of what it means to be “agile” is never complete. It must be perpetually undertaken anew, whenever your project starts. It is an ongoing task which every team will face in one form or another as long as they remain a team. And when your team works with agility, then you’ll know it when you see it.