Agility Distilled: The Essence of Agility

Inspired by “Agility Schmagility … What are we really talking about here?” (@jkloren and The Power of Social Media), consider Agility!

The roots of Agility (Boydian Agility) are in John Boyd‘s OODA loop (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Agility is about Responsiveness and the ability to continuously Re-orient as we Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. Agility is not merely about Speed and focusing on being expeditious! Agility is not merely about Reactiveness and focusing on acting relative to change from the perspective of the moment rather than a longer timeframe! Agility is about Responsiveness and focusing on acting relative to change from the perspective of the moment balanced with a longer timeframe! That is, Agile maturity!

Quintessentially, Agility is a value system (being [heart-set / emotional and mindset / rational] and doing [skill-set / practical]) that emphasizes people, results, collaboration, and responsiveness.

Applying the many aspects of Agility gives us the Agile Alliance’s & Scrum Alliance’s Manifesto for Agile Software Development & the Principles behind the Agile Manifesto as well as Scrum & eXtreme Programming (XP).

Applying the many aspects of Agility also gives us Agile Product Management (or whatever else).

What is the essence of Agility? Responsiveness and Re-orientation! What are the aspects of this essence?

Consider a Team or Enterprise…


(click figure to enlarge)


To increase a Team’s or Enterprise’s Velocity and Throughput (relative to Demand) and deliver Value — Focus, leverage Feedback or Iterate, and Balance.

This is the Results/Value-oriented pattern: Focus on results, which can only be achieved by iterating and leveraging feedback within context such that people balance competing forces. The essence of Agility involves goals that provide focus on intent, objectives that provide a mission or leadership through commitment, and intuitiveness that fosters self-organization and that fosters decisions based more on implicit guidance and less on explicit guidance. Do you have Goals? Do you have Objectives? How intuitive is your Team or Enterprise?


To increase a Team’s or Enterprise’s Focus — Leverage Leadership through Collaboration (Contribution and Confirmation) with the members of the Team or Enterprise.

This is the Context-aware pattern: Lead within context, which can only be achieved by collaborating with people such that they contribute to and confirm results; leadership is essential for focusing on results. The essence ofAgility involves a Vision that provides direction or intent and the ability to re-orient. Do you have a Vision? Can you re-orient (transition from one orientation to another)?


To increase a Team’s or Enterprise’s ability to Balance — Support, Enable, and Empower the members of the Team or Enterprise.

This is the People/Team-centric pattern: Empower people who are able to achieve results within context; empowerment is essential for balancing competing forces. The essence of Agility involves mutual-trust, unity, andcohesion, thus, oneness. Do you have such a Community and Culture?

These patterns are interdependent. Without Leadership through Collaboration, we jeopardize Focus; without Empowerment, we jeopardize the ability to Balance; without Iterating, we jeopardize the degree of Feedback; and ultimately we jeopardize Velocity and Value!

Shuhari and the Kata of Agility

Closely related to Shuhari, these are the Kata of Agility. See Mike Rother’s Toyota KataDefining Kata, Which Kata?, and Teaching a Kata for more.

Do you have a Vision, Goals, Objectives, and a Community & Culture that is Intuitively Responsive and can Re-orient?


4 thoughts on “Agility Distilled: The Essence of Agility

  1. Si,
    Thank you for another well crafted blog further articulating your deep insights on organizational transformation. I like your articulation of Agility and I sincerely appreciate your recognition of Boyd and Sun Tzu. So many in the Agile community feel as though they need to invent (or worse… take credit for inventing) new concepts, but so many great bodies of knowledge already exist. I love the way you embrace these efforts, identify the gems, then apply the relevant content to the context of today challenges.

    Results Oriented, People Centric, Context Aware
    Ever since you shared these three pillars with me several years back I have found them tremendously valuable not only in my agile consulting and coaching activities, but also with many other aspects of my career; and life in general. Assessing individuals, teams, and organizations against these three perspectives provides orientation for actions aimed at bringing the three into balance.

    My experience have proved you guidance to be spot on. When these three items are in balance, success is close at hand.

    Thanks again,

  2. You may be interested in what we are doing in the OpenAgile community. It is still very early stages, but you can check out and We’re building an “open source” agile method that is meant to work beyond just software. For example, it is currently being used to at a museum, with several sales teams, in a small service business, and for classroom management in some arts classes, among other uses. We are trying to base OpenAgile on what actually works.

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