Agile is a big theme these days. Not surprising that it should be a big part of “Web 2.0”, since Web 1.0 is often attributed as an inspiration. Paul Scrivens reminds us of [37Signals’ association with agile principles](] and that’s evident, for example, in this talk by Jason Fried. Similarly, the agile manifesto was mentioned in a Web Essentials talk last week (I think Kelly Goto’s talk, towards the end). And, of course, you’ll see “Agile” bandied around in most magazine ads run by consulting and IT companies, complete with obWhiteboardSketches.

What you don’t hear much of, in these bite-sized message, is how to do agile. I’m sure the speakers and their organisations know how (though I’m not sure about all the magazine advertisers), but how about the audience? I have visions of some people thinking, “1. Loosen up a bit. 2. ???. 3. Profit!!!!!!”. Hopefully, some of them will do some investigation and learn the how part, but for others, this has the potential to end in tears.

To clarify:

  • Agile is not just taking your tie off.
  • Agile is not just the manifesto.
  • Agile is not just whiteboards.
  • Agile is not just programming.
  • Agile is not just adding functionality.
  • Agile is not just setting up a wiki.
  • Agile is not just “we have to try harder”.
  • Agile is not just taking your tie off.

Here’s why:

  • “Agile is not just taking your tie off” because you need specific technologies, technical skills, and techniques.
  • Agile is not just the manifesto, because that’s a set of principles, not a manual.
  • “Agile is not just whiteboards” because no-one ever got paid for delivering a whiteboard. (With the obvious exception of whiteboard manufacturers, and it’s also likely some retailers in the corporate sector have made a tidy profit in the whiteboard market.)
  • “Agile is not just programming” because it’s also continuous design and testing.
  • “Agile is not just adding functionality” because it’s also refactoring existing functionality.
  • “Agile is not just setting up a wiki” because it’s the content that counts. (And in any event, use the wall instead of a wiki. Support your local whiteboard manufacturer today.)
  • “Agile is not just “we have to try harder” “ because that’s not sustainable, and even if it was, it’s not optimal.
  • “Agile is not just taking your tie off.” No, really. Keep it on if you like. It makes no difference. A black polo top doesn’t make you more agile.

(Vaguely inspired by hearing that Dave Weinberger’s going to be talking about what blogging’s not.)

What I like most about Extreme Programming is that it makes the practices explicit, whether you agree with them or not. “Refactor Mercilessly”, “You Ain’t Gonna Need It”, “Test-Driven Design” - they might sound like mindless mantras to the uninitiated, but they actually reflect a lot more concrete, rich, advice than “Chill Out”, “Loosen Up” and “This agile thing’s a breeze … (something about whiteboards) … profit!”.