Try getting a conference spot to talk about Agile and you’ll be refused. Frame it as ‘Business Agility’ and invitations will pour into your inbox. What is going on?

On the Adept website recently a curious thing happened: ‘Business Agility’ overtook ‘Agile’ as the top ranking search. You might suspect this is due to the maturity of Agile now reaching deep into the business. But I think that the very mention of Agile (without a ‘Business’ prefix) now prompts a slightly bitter taste in the mouth due to some bias or fear that exist how Agile was introduced as a methodology, and language has moved on to avoid discomfort.

It reminds me of the good old PMO, where the ‘P’ at first stood for Project and when this was not describing the actual focus any more, it changed to Programme or to Portfolio. But the name PMO still creates that old fear of the process overkill and policing.

Agility has still a long way to go, on that basis. But do we still need the term Agile at all?

I have been part of the ‘A-movement’ for around 15 years and have seen many iterations. Most of them were not so well introduced.

In the beginning, Agile suddenly ‘appeared’ in silos, when the traditional ways did not produce the wanted results, shrouded in secrecy, with little communication. Decades worth of simple change management principles were ignored.

These days, everyone sees the need for a holistic approach that makes an organisation more agile, but not necessarily ‘Agile’. Nevertheless, any change needs a clear purpose or the process will fail.

Recently, I read a post from Lynne Casaly about “Fix a fundamental first’ which talked about fixing ‘customer pains’ (process- or system related) first before you even go looking for the new WOW. I couldn’t agree more that a common-sense approach can go a long way and can create a good buzz for other changes that are required.

Agile change, like any change, needs leaders who can be role models and navigate through the journey and doers capable of operating in the New Ways of Working. It is not one or the other, it is both. And yes, you should have iterations on this journey, with its own change aspects, with outcomes, measures, success criteria and a plan for implementation.

Maybe a better word for ‘Agility’ is ‘Responsive’, a word with intrinsic purpose. Or perhaps, ‘Flexible’ or ‘Adaptive’. Words change, but principles usually stay with us for long periods. We are still adapting traditional project management — largely based on the principles from the construction industry — with the flexibility and feedback to respond to fast-changing business environments.

Call it what you like, we still need to be agile.

Peter Reutlinger