Foundations of Agile, Part I

with Alan Atlas and Alan Brouilette

Monday, November 04, 2019 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM ET

Hosted by and the 18F

View the slides (PDF, 23.1 MB, 40 pages)

Agile is a way of thinking and a way of attacking problems, and it is central to how modern, digital teams attack problems and respond effectively to the inevitable change that arises when working on digital products.

About this session — Foundations of Agile, Part I

Agile methods, particularly Agile software development methods, have become the de facto approach to modern software development. Many people find themselves on “Agile teams” doing “Agile development” without understanding the fundamental underlying principles. This is the first of two sessions that will explore the fundamentals of Agile methodology. Major topics covered will include the need for Agile, the Agile Manifesto and Principles, and Iterative development.

More talks in this series:

About the speakers

Alan Atlas is currently the Agile Coach for, and has been with 18F for nearly four years. During that time, he has primarily delivered various kinds of Agile training, coaching, and management consulting. He began his Agile career as Scrum Master for the team at that build Amazon S3. Before coming to 18F, he spent over ten years consulting and coaching privately for Agile teams at various private sector companies.

Alan Brouilette is the Chief of Staff for 18F. He came here in 2015 to be an Agile coach and found himself learning Operations by doing, developing processes for staffing, agreements, travel, and other bits and pieces that make 18F function (e.g. meeting facilitation, and putting out fires). Prior to 18F he worked in the financial industry, news and sports radio, and taught processes and collaboration.

What is Agile?

If you take nothing else from all these words, take this — Agile is not a checklist, or a methodology, or a series of rituals. Agile is a way of thinking and a way of attacking problems. Embrace mistakes, learn, and keep trying. Mess up, and learn again and again and again. Cut your losses. Fail forward fast. It’s okay. You won’t get fired. You’re always improving.

As we put it in the 18F Guide to Agile —  

There are three basic approaches to software development: Waterfall, Agile, and Chaos.

Chaos is when you don’t really have a methodology, and you don’t really learn anything, but everybody’s super busy all the time. Chaos is often characterized (or justified, if you want to be more critical) as “firefighting,” and it is suggested that there is no time to plan or learn because there is just so much to do.

Waterfall is when you lay out The Plan in full before you start: every detail, every feature, every meeting, every benchmark, and then you’re wrong on most of them but forge ahead anyway, secure in the knowledge that following The Plan gives air cover in the likely event that the thing you’re building doesn’t work the way you expected it to when you made The Plan.

Agile is different. In Agile, you build big things a baby step at a time. You are motivated and engaged because you are empowered to make your own decisions about how you accomplish your work. Agile has an end result in mind, and maybe a timeframe, but it only gets into the details as needed, which allows for change in response to new information.

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