Are you doing agile, or being agile?

The shift to agile ways of working is often made with specific goals and improvements in mind.


Being more responsive to customer feedback, getting value into the hands of the customer faster and improved work flow are the most common reasons we hear why people want to adopt agile.


But what if you’ve made the shift to agile and are not experiencing the improvements you expected? It’s probably because you’re ‘doing agile’ rather than ‘being agile’.


What is the difference between doing agile and being agile?

Doing agile is when you’re focused on the ceremonies: stand-ups, sprints, visualisation of work, showcases and retrospectives. The focus is on doing them (ticking the box) rather than doing them meaningfully.

Being agile, on the other hand, is when the behaviours in those ceremonies deliver the benefits we expect to see in Agile organisations; creating customer feedback loops, taking advantage of market opportunities, delivering value early and often, and improving communication and alignment.


So how do you know if you’re doing agile or being agile?

You need to take a holistic view. The Heart of Agile1, identifies reflection as having two parts; subjective feedback from the team about the process, combined with objective data analysis.


What are some subjective measures of agility?

Some of the more subjective measures we look for when identifying if an organisation is ‘doing agile’ or ‘being agile’ are that:

  • People have visibility of the work in progress, and agreed priorities are transparent.
  • Leaders are comfortable with ambiguity and trust their team to solve problems, they use their time instead unblocking team problems and endorsing ideas.
  • KPIs are aligned across the team so that everyone is working cohesively to deliver customer value.
  • The environment allows people to respond quickly to customer demands and market changes, and the learning’s that come from failure are celebrated.
  • Teams leverage real customer insights, rather than testing on its own people posing as customers.
  • Work flows efficiently, without single points of dependency.

What are some of the metrics you can use to measure agility?

These subjective measures are a good place to start but they only tell half the story. Being able to accurately identify if you’re ‘doing agile’ or ‘being agile’ also requires data reflection.

Whilst there’s no one size fits all approach to metrics, there are some measures that we believe are a good starting point.


The aim is to achieve a consistent, gradual improvement in the amount of work teams can get through, until an optimal point is reached. Peaks and troughs are a signal that work is still being batched in big and irregular amounts and the problem is not yet solved.

Time to market for priority work: 

An indication of the efficiency of an agile environment is the time it takes from idea to be born until when it lands in the customer’s hands. This should decrease over time as you get more agile.

Cumulative flow:

Tracking the time it takes to move work into completion, visualising touch points and blockages along the way, will help inform you where efficiencies can be gained. Visual blockages and the number of handoffs should get smaller.

Planned v delivered:

Measure how much was actually delivered against the amount of work your team planned to accomplish. Large variances are a sign that there are problems with prioritisation, or that your team’s being hit with unplanned work.

Customer metrics:

A relevant set of customer metrics should be selected based on the product and the hypothesis you are testing with each release. A/B testing tools can facilitate data collection, and if everything is working you should see movement here.


How do you use metrics to improve?

Acquiring and developing agile skills and new behaviours is a learning curve. Being able to visualise the subjective data and metrics will help you make better decisions. Use your dashboard to:

  • Diagnose — identify what you need to work on
  • Evaluate — effectiveness of the changes you’re making
  • Trends — track your progress over time to tell your story

It’s often easier to track your ceremonies than track results so we recommend that you think about this at the design and implementation stage.



Organisational agility will only be achieved when you’re ‘being agile’ rather than ‘doing agile’ and it’s the combination of subjective data and metrics that will help you identify the difference.

We’ve provided some guidance on the metrics we use here but there’s no one size fits all approach. Identify the metrics that are relevant to what you’re trying to achieve and set up a dashboard that visualises your problems – so that you can evaluate changes and track the trends on your journey to ‘being agile’.



  1. Heart of Agile