What’s in a Word?

I walk into a crowded room in anticipation for my talk entitled “The Road to Agility”. I start with one simple question. “When you hear “Agile”, what words come to mind?” As the words are fired up at me, I begin the frantic exercise of jotting them down on a large whiteboard. “Incremental”, “scrum”, “speed”, “collaboration”, “teamwork”, “backlogs”, “sprint”, “fast”, “fail fast”,” experiment”, “burndown”, ” adapt”. All great words, and words that are certainly appropriate in an agile setting. I ask “what else?”


As the crowd digs deeper, I realize that people are now googling “agile” on their smart phones. I smile, and continue writing the words, or rather terms which are beginning to emerge. “Working Software”, “Change”, “Individuals and Interactions”, and “Customer Collaboration”. I step back from the board and read the words aloud. I acknowledge the effort and energy from a very enthusiastic bunch, and then I say. “There is one word that is missing from the list. An important word. A word that is so critical to agile that without it, we are not agile at all”. I get a few more words, but still I don’t hear it.  I say the word “Value”. “It matters not how fast, collaborative, adaptive or incremental we are, if we are not creating value” I add.


The Road to Value

Like many words, the word value is subjective. If you were to take three of your customers (internal or external) and ask each one, “What does value look like to you?”. I have no doubt that you would get three different answers.

If you want to be “Agile”, then you must start by understanding what value looks like to your customer.

This brings me to the first key in my 4 Keys to the Mindset of Agile.


So how do you do that?  Well, if value is subjective, meaning your idea of customer value and your customer’s idea of value may be very different, then the only way to unearth that is by talking to your customer…OFTEN – I mean very often. Let me first ask you this…do you know who your customer is? I mean really know who your customer is? Are you talking to the right people? Are you asking the right questions?

That brings us to number two in my 4 Keys to the Mindset of Agile. i.e. working together in partnership with your customer and understanding what each of you brings to the table. That will help you collectively identify what will move the needle and create the highest level of value.


It is important to establish a working agreement with your customer. How you show-up, partner and ultimately talk with your customer are critical elements to a successful collaboration – part of that agreement is to create healthy conditions that allow for change. What is deemed of value today, may not be of value in two weeks or four weeks – you get the idea. Not that we want to encourage fickle behavior on either side, but if you are truly focused on creating the most value, then being close enough to your customer and creating an environment within the team to be able to deal with the stress and often harsh reality of changing priorities, then you need to design an environment that can adapt quickly and for the right reasons.

That brings me to number three in my 4 Keys to the Mindset of Agile.


By now we’ve learned a lot in the process of creating value. We not only learn to celebrate what we have accomplished, but learn to acknowledge how we can improve our efforts to be even better the next time. We are learning to learn. Asking ourselves “what is the one thing right now that would make us even better?” and collectively committing to work on it.

And now for number four in my 4 Keys to the Mindset of Agile


The 4 Keys to the Mindset of Agile


Source: Sinead A. Condon, Agile Transformation Leader

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