"Agile" is not a noun

November 4, 2021
Even in the manifesto, the word "agile" is used as an adjective, not a noun. I think this clarifies the meaning significantly.

I’ve seen a lot of time spent, and (virtual) ink spilled over the question of “What is the definition of Agile?”

“Agile is a project management approach…”

“Agile is a philosophy…”

“…set of practices…”

“…a mindset…”

No matter how general or specific the definition you come up with, someone has an objection, and endless bikeshedding ensues.

What if there were an easier way to think about this?

Going all the way back to the manifesto which kicked things off, the word “agile” is actually used as an adjective, not a noun. Remember, the proper name for the famous document is not “The Agile Manifesto”, as we often call it, it is “The Manifesto for Agile Software Development.” That is to say: It’s a manifesto about software development, with “agile” as an adjective describing the way software development is done. “Agile” is not the thing (the noun) about which the manifesto is written.

Merriam-Webster defines agile as:

agile adjective

able to move quickly and easily

With this definition in mind, I think it’s much easier to come up with a definition of agile software development that requires a lot less hair-splitting. And I think this is clearly in line with the principles of the manifesto.

Are we developing software and related systems in a way that can move quickly and easily? If so, we’re accomplishing agility. If not, well…

Related Content

When to not be agile

What if you're in a business where you know all the requirements up front, you do not need to respond quickly to change?

Agility is relative

Describing something as "agile" makes about as much sense as describing something as "big". Agility only exists in relation to something else.

Can we scale agile?

The Agile manifesto makes it pretty clear that agile software development happens at the team level.