What’s in a word – Agile

Our choice of words says a lot about how we see the world. Sometimes inadvertently, we label things so that our beliefs are portrayed with a positive light. The abortion debates, for example, are between pro-life and pro-choice groups (and who would like to be against life or choice?).

There are many examples of this wordplay in modern life, and they are not exclusive of politics. Within the software development field we’ve had about a decade of “agile” methodologies, such as XP and SCRUM. It’s a great word, for two reasons: It truly represents the spirit of these methodologies (that is, being very adaptable and producing results quickly), and it doesn’t have an evident, good looking counterpart in the other band. Everybody wants to be agile — otherwise they would be… what? clumsy? slow? gawky? Using the word agile wins half of the debate for your project management strategy.

There should be a word that displays the qualities of the other band as well (preparedness, robustness, carefully setting goalposts, etc.). A while back, Greg Wilson found it, I think, when he referred to the non-agile approach as “sturdy“. Maybe sturdy companies can’t avoid the punch that’s coming like agile companies can, but since they have planned well ahead to receive it, it doesn’t damage them either. So, sturdy. If only people started to use it…

(An alternative, also by Greg, is to refer to agile as “planless” development instead. Highlights the negative in agile rather than the positive in the other band, but it’s also an enlightening choice.)

About Jorge Aranda

I'm currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the SEGAL and CHISEL labs in the Department of Computer Science of the University of Victoria.
This entry was posted in Hype, Software development. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What’s in a word – Agile

  1. Mike says:

    Boehm and Turner use the term “disciplined”. I believe the agile community is not crazy about that term because they claim that agile methods are also disciplined.

  2. Jorge says:

    Yes, and following to the letter an agile methodology requires quite a bit of discipline.

    There’s also a lot of people claiming they do agile when what they really mean is that they are not following any methodology, which explains a lot of the bad reputation the agile community has among some circles.

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