What is Agile? Agile Explained... with a PENCIL!

Episode 102 - 18 Oct 2017

Need a powerful demonstration of Agile that you can perform almost anywhere?

Grab a pad and a pencil - I have a treat for you!


This is St James Park: home of Newcastle United Football Club.

I was born in Newcastle, and grew up a few miles out of town.

In Newcastle, they say that football isn’t life and death: it’s more important than that.

Alas, my football skills were sadly lacking.

But there was this game we’d play in class - when the teacher wasn’t looking.

Football. Kind of.

I’m sketchy on the rules; I guess we’d take turns to get across the pitch to score a goal.

Agile Analogy

It struck me recently that the game is a rather lovely demonstration of Agile:

We have value delivered in small increments as the “ball” makes its way up the pitch.

And we have the opportunity to “course correct”: it’s easy to recover from a wayward first "kick".

Special Pencil

Hold on a second. I think I’ve just figured out how to play this game.

Where did I put my special pencil?

Ah here it is,

My turn: Ready. Aim. Aim some more. Fire!

I mean: Shoot!

As I'm sure you've guessed, this big-ass pencil represents a Waterfall Approach.

It’s an eggs in one basket approach: we design, build and test this leviathan. And launch it into the world.

It’s either a big hit. Or it’s a big miss. No second chances.

If our aim is true. If the playing field is flat. If the goalposts don’t move. We’re on to a winner.

For me, that’s an awful lot of “ifs”. An awful lot of RISK.

In an uncertain world, the big ass-pencil starts to look less like an unfair advantage, and more like an enormous liability.

In an uncertain world, we need a pencil that’s more…what a good word here?


With this small but perfectly formed Agile pencil:

our aim doesn’t have to be true. The playing field doesn’t need to be flat. The goal posts don’t need to stay put.

All we have to do, is keep kicking.

Can you do better?

So what did you make of the What is Agile pencil analogy?

Perhaps you hated it.You thought that it didn’t work at all.

Perhaps you really liked it, and are wondering where you can your hands on an enormous pencil.

Either way, I’d like your help with something I’m planning: I’m on a mission to collect the best “Agile Analogies”.

So if you have a good one…

or have heard of a good one…

or can think of a good one

Please let me know.

If it helps to answer the question: “What is Agile?” I want to hear about it.

Let me know in the comments below.

I very much look forward to reading them. And I’ll feature the best ones in a future episode - or episodes - of Development That Pays.