Agile Culture: Where Should a Newbie Start?


Originally uploaded by Garrette

Last week I asked for help in finding out more about Agile Culture. Thanks to your comments I was able to pull together a good starting point:

  1. A good map or overview of the country
  2. A solid list of Dos and Don’ts
  3. Basic understanding of the language or a Language Phrasebook

The good news is that there are plenty of resources online to learn about Agile culture. The bad news (if it is bad news) is that there are many ways to “do” Agile.

My map of the landscape:

Agile: XP, Lean and Scrum
Agile: XP, Lean and Scrum

Drawing a map helped me clarify the misunderstanding I had about XP (Extreme Programming), Lean and Scrum.

The terms are used nearly interchangeably on the web and if you don’t know that there are differences, you’ll be lost when a blog describes a practice that doesn’t sound familiar.

For those of you who are having problems interpreting my drawing, Agile is like a nation with many several distinct tribes

Each tribe is very different, but all adhere to the big picture view of what it means to be Agile (The Agile Manifesto).

Warning: oversimplification ahead for purposes of understanding.

  • Lean Agilists’ roots are in Toyota lean manufacturing philosophy where valuing individual workers’ contributions and eliminating waste in process and development are key.
  • XP Agilists reduce software development to four activities: coding, testing, listening and designing that they “turn up the volume on” to improve responsiveness to the customers.
  • SCRUM Agilists follow a “process skeleton” that has customers and a self-organized development team work together to deliver software in short intervals known as sprints.

Many of the practices used in one tribe are carried over and used in the other two. There are general rules for how practices are implemented and that leads me to my next point:

A list of Dos and Don’ts

The Dos all follow from the basic principles of Agile outlined in the Agile Manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on

the right, we value the items on the left more.

To flesh out the manifesto, an additional 12 principles of Agile Software were drafted. I wasn’t able to find a set of Don’ts, however, I gathered from my search that “you’ll know it’s Agile when you see it.” In other words, if it violates the principles or the spirit of the manifesto, it very likely is not Agile. If there is a formal list of “Don’ts”, please let me know.

Basic Understanding of the Language: Language Phrasebooks

After discovering the distinct features of each tribe, I realized that each had different terms and dug up some useful phrasebooks:

If there are other glossaries out there, please let me know.

While doing this I ran across a number of websites and blogs that are discussing Agile and its evolution. These folks are practicing Agile and driving change.

My learning about Agile is just beginning. Thanks to everyone who provided links and references to other sites.

If you know of other sites or links that would be useful for folks just learning about Agile, please leave a comment or send me an email or Tweet. I’m jgodfrey.



  1. Organizations don’t “do agile”. They “are agile” or “aren’t agile”. A series of reads can be good to get started, but a big paradigm shift must happen before a organization can be agile.
    BTW, in the “Dos” you mentioned the four pairs of values in the agile manifesto. They’re not principles. Agile manifesto is the 4 values and 12 principles.
    Regarding the don’ts, we shall prefer to concentrate on the “Dos” and in the art of the possible 🙂

  2. I agree. Reading some links isn’t going to transform an organization overnight. Agile is a culture. Part of the reason behind writing this post was to make sense of the multiple terms used for Agile. Since writing it I’ve discovered other flavors of Agile that would have their own circles in Agile culture.

    I wrote of ‘doing Agile’ to try to distinguish between Waterfall teams that may be agile in delivering software versus teams that have implementing Agile practices and are familiar with the culture of Agile. I wanted to make it clear that Agile is also a culture, not just a descriptive term. Thanks for your comment!

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