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Agility – A beautiful explanation


Tathagat Varma in discussion with T Ashok (@ash_thiru on Twitter)

Tathagat Varma beautifully expounds as to what is Agility is. He says agility is actually the ability of an organization, in some sense taking a biological definition, somebody or a unit which has an ability to respond to the external stimuli and ensure that their own survival is assured.

The video of this “nano learning” smartbits video is available here.

Question: During my discussions with companies who say they practice Agile development, they quickly add as to what they practice is ‘my Agile’. Now I am lost. Are we abusing this term and using Agile as a fashion statement?

Agility to me, is an organization’s innate capability to survive and thrive in the long run. If we take a very biological definition of that, every organism is at different stage of its evolution. As a human being, if I am a toddler, I am in a crawl-walk-run stage. My agility when I’m crawling on the floor will be very different than my agility when I am running or walking or even flying for that matter. So, I think we have to really take the ‘horses for courses’ strategy. 

Some people might abuse it and that’s why they say, this is ‘my’ agile. If I take a very holistic perspective on that,  if there are five people or five teams with different capabilities, but they all follow the same process and say this is ‘our’ agile process, I would say something is wrong with that. What is being agile to one may not be of a similar or comparable perspective to another one. 

So to me, in a very simple sense, agility is actually the ability of an organization, in some sense taking a biological definition, somebody or a unit which has an ability to respond to the external stimuli and ensure that their own survival is assured. So agility is actually an ability of a body to respond commensurate to the external stimuli and make sure they remain alive, they are able to deal with the issues, they are able to grow. 

Now in the context of a company, we have heard of so many stories, for example, Kodak story is very popular. Where at one point it was the world leader and I believe had 1,500 patents and so on. Then the external changes started happening. Though they were actually the ones who invented digital photography, they were not able to leverage it. They had the capability to lead the technology in the next wave, but they did not have the inner capacity to take decisions and deal with the changes inside the organization. The same thing happened to Blockbuster. 

Organizations face the same kind of challenges, and ‘agility’ is simply their ability to understand and make a meaningful interpretation out of those external stimuli, and decide how they are going to respond back. For a large part that kind of works for me. In some cases, a visionary kind of a company which actually are not responding to it, but are initiating the change. They are the ones who are saying “we will set the pace there”. For example, I would say Tesla. Nobody is asking for a Tesla. When Tesla started making the cars, no government legislation is mandating it, no customers are asking for it, but they are setting the pace for it. iPhone changed the whole pinch and zoom and other kinds of features, it changed the definition of what the smartphones is all about. They were not following the trend. They were not responding to external changes. They were setting the change. 

To me, the highest form of agility would actually be the companies that have so good understanding of the market, very strong grip on the technology and are actually setting the pace for rest of the herd to follow. So agility, I would take is that kind of thing. 

Now, some companies might say “Hey, our definition of agility is so and so”. The way I look at it is if you are improving quarter on quarter, or year on year, you are agile by definition. One doesn’t have to be apologetic about not using the standard vocabulary. 

To that extent, I would agree that it is not a fashion statement but ‘horses for courses’. Yes, there is a lot of abuse we see in the industry where people don’t have a very systematic or intentional approach, and in order to not be very forthright about it, they just say ‘this is our blend of agile’, which doesn’t really mean anything because they, in all honesty, are not doing service to themselves. 

click to video

#38 – “Failures”

SmartQA Digest

Unilever had a problem. They were manufacturing washing powder at their factory near Liverpool in the northwest of England in the same usual way – forcing boiling hot chemicals through a nozzle at super high levels of pressure. The problem was that the nozzles didn’t work smoothly, they kept clogging up. A crack team of mathematicians, dug deep into problems of phase transition, derived complex equations and after a long time came up with a new design. But it was inefficient. Then the company turned to its biologists, who had no clue of phase transition or fluid dynamics, but they solved it!

 The biologists took tens copies of nozzle, applied small changes in each and subjected them to failure by testing them. After 449 failures they succeeded. Progress had been delivered not through a beautifully constructed master plan but by rapid interaction with the world. A single outstanding nozzle was discovered as a consequence of testing and discarding 449 failures. Check out the book “Black box thinking” in the expandMind section.

“A typical accident takes seven consecutive errors” states Malcolm Gladwell, this notion is reflected in Mark Buchanan’s book “Ubiquity”too. The article in the beEnriched section “Seven consecutive errors = A Catastrophe” dwells upon ‘How do you ensure that potential critical failures lurking in systems that have matured can still be uncovered?’

In this edition of SmartBites, listen to “A mosaic of testing” from NINE practitioners around the world on failures, tools, unit test, clean code, Agile, TDD, feeling & relationship.

In the nanoLearning section Raja Nagendra Kumar outlines the role of refactoring, unit testing in producing clean code. He states this very interestingly as “Technical debt is fat, clean code is liposuction” and crisply explains the act of producing clean code.


Seven consecutive errors = A Catastrophe

“A typical accident takes seven consecutive errors” states Malcolm Gladwell this notion is reflected in the Mark Buchanan’s book “Ubiquity”. This article dwells upon ‘How do you ensure that potential critical failures lurking in systems that have matured can still be uncovered?’

Read More »


Black box thinking

Learning from failures .The inside story of how success really happens and how we cannot grow unless we learn from our mistakes.

Read More »





22 tips to smart dev & test

T Ashok @ash_thiru on Twitter


TEN tips for a developer to enable delivery of brilliant code and TWELVE tips to become a modern smart tester is what this article is about. Curated from two earlier articles that I wrote.

What are my TEN tips for dev to deliver brilliant code?
Here it is visualised as mind map!

Minmap of TEN tips for a dev to deliver brilliant code

Read the full text in my article  10 things to be sensitive to deliver brilliant code” which is about:

Great code is not result of mere unit/dev testing at the early stage. It is really a mindset that is key to producing brilliant code.

T Ashok

What are TWELVE tips to test brilliantly?
Here it is what I think it as visualised mind map!

Mindmap of TWELVE tips to test brilliantly

Interested in the full text? Checkout my article 12 tips to reinvent yourself in testing.