What is the difference between Agile and agile? Big “A” Agile is branded and process-focused Agile, while little “a” agile is collaborative and outcome focused. In a recent interview on the Software Process and Measurement Cast, Tobias Mayer talked about the concept of big “A” Agile versus “a” agile. Tobias pointed out that branding is an artifact of commercialization which is an attribute of big “A” Agile. Commercialization is important to a healthy, growing eco-system, but branding has consequences. The consequences include process-driven brittleness and a focus on big changes versus incrementalism.
Experimentation has been hallmark of the Agile movement – practitioners trying out new ideas. The philosophy of kiazen, a focus on continuous improvement, was part and parcel of agile. Branding and certification tends to lead to a hardening of frameworks and methodologies so they can be taught and tested. Implementations in the big “A” world are about following and doing the process. The rate of change in how Agile is practiced in big “A” Agile will be slower than if individual teams had control of their own process. The slower rates of incorporating change into how work is done at the team level tends to mean that organizational processes will atrophy.
Big “A” Agile tends to be initially implemented as whole units (I am tempted to use the words: big bang) and then rolls out as whole units. Changes are implemented in a similar manner because big “A” Agile needs to be more controlled to conform to brand standards. An example of this kind of stickiness (resistance to deviations of the status quo) is exemplified by those in the industry that get up in arms when someone says I am doing Scrum with a twist or I am doing Scrum but . . .
Whether an organization embraces big “A” or little “a” agile, is probably a reflection of each organization’s culture. Organizations that feel they need greater control will tend to find solace in big “A” Agile. My professional opinion is that little “a” agile is more responsive to change and reflects needs of teams to a greater extent.