Is Agile an Approach or a Method?


This is a semantic question that is being asked on p. 11 of the Agile Practice Guide.    The-Integral-Model-1

One way of making sense of this question is to use the heuristic device from Integral Theory of dividing the approach to any question into the four quadrants listed above.   If you look at a problem from the exterior, in terms of what types of exterior steps you take to the problem, then you are looking at it from the standpoint of a method.

If you are looking at a problem from the standpoint of the interior, in terms of what sort of interior mindset you take when looking at a problem, you are looking at an approach.

Figure 2.4 on p. 11 of the Agile Practice Guide shows several approaches, with “lean” being the largest category, and agile and the Kanban method being subsets of lean because they share some lean concepts such as “focus on value”, “small batch sizes”, and “elimination of waste.”

In studying agile, it is important to study not just the methods, but the mindset that produces them.   I remember asking one of the agile experts at a PM Symposium put on by PMI Chicagoland what he thought was one of the biggest misconceptions people had about agile who were coming from the traditional project management world.

He said, they take a look at the lack of documentation and they think that agile project management is undisciplined.   He said they don’t realize that it is disciplined, but that discipline is internalized, meaning that it exists within the minds of the people who are practicing the methods of agile, and is not always apparent to the casual observer.   Now in some methods, such as Kanban, the formality is more readily apparent because a lot of the action items and even the relationships are made visible, but it is still more informal than traditional project management because it is written on sticky notes that can be shifted around a lot more quickly than items on a spreadsheet.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that the lack of formality means lack of importance.   It is precisely because the relationships are not as formal, i.e., not as rigid, that they are more capable of responding to change, and THAT is one of the “superpowers” of the agile approach.

In the next post, I will discuss in a little more detail the way that the Agile Alliance describes the relationship between lean, agile and the Kanban Method.

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