I have often been asked to explain the difference between a Framework (Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, XP, LeSS, DA, etc.) and Agile. There are a lot of people out there that are convinced that the framework itself is “Agile” when in fact, Agile is the mindset, defined by the 4 Values of the Manifesto and followed by the 12 Principles. You can have a framework without Agile just as you can have Agile without any of the Frameworks.
Agile is the water, the Framework is the container
I describe this as – Agile is the water, the Framework is the container. While people buy water in bottles and are convinced that the bottle is “water”, it is not. The Framework will describe the bottle or container in detail. These “bottles” are ideal to contain water but are not themselves the water. Without water (Agile), they are empty containers.
There are those in the industry who know every detail of the bottle, the shape, the construction, the cap, but really have no idea about the water, thinking that they do because, well, “bottle”. To put that another way, there are highly trained, qualified, and experienced people who understand completely their framework (Scrum, SAFe, etc.), but do not understand Agile at all. This can be good, so long as you use such people to help in the early stages of becoming Agile only, ensuring that the rigidity of the bottle does not become permanent. Allow Agile to flow and replace or reshape the container as required by the environment.
By all means, select an appropriate container but don’t forget, it’s the water that is the value.
But take care, it’s worth noting the following:
Bottles (frameworks) don’t change shape, they are rigid in their construction and can lock in the water – without Agile being able to flow and find it’s own shape, you are stuck with a rigid, highly constrained structure that disallows Agile.
Often people get attached to the rigid and defined structure of the bottle and will enforce that structure and value the rigidity over the water – some will place the value of the framework (e.g. Scrum) over becoming Agile.
Bottles can be, or can become, empty – installing a framework will not make you Agile.
Some bottle experts insist they are water experts – A Scrum or SAFe coach is not an Agile coach, these are two different things.
Water needs a container only to the point where it allows the water to flow – Frameworks like Scrum, SAFe, LeSS etc are your starting point. It allows teams to know “What to do” while they learn why they are doing it.
Water can exist without a container and, like a river, will find it’s own path – Agile itself only needs the framework while the team comes to understand Agile (use your Agile coach), and can decide to progress through regular refinement in such things as the Retrospective. This allows teams to work in the most productive and inspired way for both the team and the environment.
Water can end up in still ponds and become contaminated – Ensure that you have regular (not necessarily permanent) contact with an experienced Agile Coach (experienced in more than one scenario) or the team will drift back into … well, not a nice or productive place.