I have been asked recently to provide a recipe for how to do Agile. I am sympathetic with this request, but I feel it misses an important point.
First, why am I sympathetic. Well, because I look at Agile as an art form, like playing the violin or learning Hapkido (Korean version of Aikido). It is an art that one continually learns. And, at the beginning one feels lost. How do I learn this thing that seems so strange? How do I start to make un-ugly noises from the violin? And the teacher must give you instructions of some sort, and you start to play. Perhaps ugly at first, but you start to play. And then you start to be…as a friend pur it recently, you start to suck less.
Of course, Agile is more like a team sport than playing a violin. But it is still an art. Where one starts with little skill and builds and builds. Agile is like the "ballet with force" that is basketball.
OK, So how do you learn to play basketball?. Well, start by dribbling. (Which one can break down.) Learn to do a layup. (Which one can break down.) But the real thing about basketball is not the individual skills. The real juice is learning how to play as a team. To improvise on the court. To maintain your confidence if the other team dunks on you twice in a row.
In basketball, there are a few set plays that one can diagram. With perhaps many variations. One cannot just follow a recipe in playing championship basketball.
This is where giving the recipe can mislead. By giving a recipe the coach can suggest to the beginner “all you have to do is follow the recipe and all will be well”. Maybe with an ordinary dish, but not if you want a meal that dazzles. And don’t you aspire to produce something that delightful?
If you have studied an art, you know that great artists will tell you that being really good requires a certain something that is hard to define. In Agile, we often say that you must "get it". You must start to reflect, in your every thought and decision, Agile values and principles. And without these values and principles, just following the cookbook or the recipe will make only a small improvement.