On Thursday, April 19th I attended the Project Management Institute's Central Virginia Chapter's (PMI-CVC) dinner meeting. The keynote speaker, Dr. Ahmed Sidky, addressed the question, "What's the big fuss about agile?" One of Dr. Sidky's points in his address was that Agile is not a process, methodology, or framework; but rather Agile is a mindset.

Dr. Sidky's opinion is that a fixed mindset and an agile mindset have the following characteristics:

Fixed Mindset

Agile Mindset

Assumes customer knows what they want at the onset of the project (i.e. static requirements that only change via a control board)

Allows customer to learn and change wants/needs throughout the life of the project (i.e. dynamic requirements throughout the life of the project)

Assumes software developers know how to build what's needed for the project

Expects/allows software developers to learn how to build components at the time they are needed

Assumes and hopes that changes do not occur during the project

Expects and welcomes changes to occur during the project

An acronym of IKIWISI (I'll know it when I see it) was used to illustrate that customers often agree to a certain set of requirements, but once they see/touch/feel actual software, their minds change and they request a different set of requirements. The agile mindset expects those changes to occur and therefore a scaled down version of the final product would allow the customer to provide feedback at an earlier date.

These different mindsets can also be viewed as the difference between defined and empirical processes:

Defined Process

Empirical Process

Predictable Outcome

Non-Predictable Outcome

Low Uncertainty

High Uncertainty

No Creativity

Creativity Required

Possible to complete specifications and then build

Extremely difficult to create upfront/unchanging specifications

Coordinate and Control

Inspect and Adapt

According to Dr. Sidky the PMBOK was developed specifically for manufacturing and scientific processes. It was not developed for the undefined or empirical processes characterized by software development. This is precisely the reason that the PMI is evolving to create a software extension to the PMBOK and evolving to create the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) qualification.

So what? What does this all mean? What's the key point?

My key takeaway from Dr. Sidky's presentation is that in today's software development environment, it may not be sufficient to just DO agile. DOING agile means that you've implemented some of the processes such as Daily Stand-Ups, Scrum boards, retrospectives, etc. But truly BEING agile requires organizations to shift their mindset and actually welcome and expect changes to occur during the life of a project. In one sentence, "BE Agile, don't just DO Agile."