What is Agile, and why is it so different in every conversation?

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What is Agile? More importantly is it still relevant in 2020? This is a big question to answer and this article intends to give some structure around what can be meant by Agile when it is referred to. Given the liberal usage of the term in business environments it can often be unclear what it actually refers to, leading to it more recently being dismissed as a buzzword with no real substance behind it.

Agile, when referred to specifically for delivery or by ‘evangelists’, most commonly refers to one of a set of over 30 methodologies. When talked about more loosely, it can be referred to as ‘agility’, an ‘agile mindset’ or ‘hybrid’.

Agile Methodologies

Agile methodologies range from systems focused on improving individual and team efficiency (e.g. XP), managing product development within a small team environment

(e.g. ScrumDSDM or Kanban), within a larger group of teams (e.g. LeSS), and even up to the portfolio and enterprise level (e.g. SAFe).

In a survey conducted by TechBeacon, a majority of firms now say that they are leaning towards agile.

Even PMI has gotten on board the agile train. In late 2019, PMI acquired Disciplined Agile (DA), a hybrid framework that builds upon the solid foundation of the existing sources and principles above.

The Disciplined Agile approach recognizes that every organization is different […]. The Disciplined Agile approach meets you where you are and allows you to tailor solutions for the way that you and your organization need to work.

Mark Lines, co-creator of Disciplined Agile

Looking at a traditional hype cycle we have definitely reached the point with Agile where the late majority is getting on board. Companies like Scaled Agile are continually updating their methods to better fit to today’s challenges.

Read our thoughts on the new SAFe® features available in Scaled Agile 5.0.

It is all the more important to understand each of these methods and when can they be best applied within a specific client environment and to address a specific set of challenges.


Agility is attempting to bring more flexibility and efficiency to an organization, often in their traditional delivery environment. This is achieved by implementing tools and techniques taken from Agile methodologies. For example, adding sprints in a traditional environment is a Hybrid approach, a type of agility. This can be applied across the organisations, from delivery environments (e.g. in an Agile PMO), marketing, to increasing efficiencies at the exec level.

Agile Mindset

An agile mindset takes the principles which broadly underpin Agile methodologies and applies them, whether they are in an Agile delivery environment or not. The principles broadly referred to are ‘continuous improvement’, ‘collaboration’, ‘adapting to change’, ‘focusing on delivering value’, ‘respect’ and ‘taking ownership of the delivery’.


Hybrid, also referred to “Adaptive” or “Bimodal” from Gartner, refers to an environment that contains both traditionally managed projects and programs, as well as Agile ones. It also covers how to manage the interface between them. This is an important challenge for businesses to handle, and whilst it is not Agile it often accompanies the conversation and can be confused. 

Agile Methodologies Approaches table
Agile Methodologies Approaches

How do you know which ‘Agile’ is right?

Given the range of topics it covers, it becomes clear why there is so much confusion surrounding it. To ensure understanding and clarity of communication when referring to ‘Agile’, the context must be clearly defined to ensure all is understood. There are sufficient differences in terminology and approaches between the methodologies and approaches to introduce confusion through different meanings. As an example, the ‘Epic’ referred to in Scrum is different to the ‘Epic’ referred to in SAFe.

To understand the approach that is being referenced you must know the environment it is used in (what level of PPM structure, or even whether it’s in a delivery structure) and how it is being applied. To define the optimal approach, the environment and application must still be understood, with the addition of any organizational constraints that apply.

It should now be clear what ‘Agile’ can refer to, and how to work out which ‘Agile’ is being spoken about. To fully understand how to best utilise Agile in an end to end context however, a deeper understanding is needed of each of the areas to devise the best approach.

Ben Beavers

Ben Beavers

Principal Consultant 

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