Updated: May 2, 2022
I am sharing what I found in my master's thesis in a series of blog posts organized around my research questions. This second post focuses on the practitioner perspective on agile, and then brings it and the academic perspective together to say how accessible and relatable agile is to planning departments. See prior parts here: 1. See the full thesis here. Need some background on what agile means? See here.
Blog post 2: Practitioners' perspective on agile; overall connection of agile & planning departments
To get practitioners' perspectives on agile, I sat down with them and asked about it in interviews. This approach was loose and descriptive. Out of the 12 interviewees, 11 had heard of agile before and 7 were able to describe part of it, so there is already recognition of the concept within the bicycle program and the larger Municipality of Amsterdam. However, concerns over nuances were brought up several times, and there was some confusion and mixed feelings on how it is implemented in practice.
When asked what agile means to her, one practitioner said, “My association is flexible… easy to move to the left or to the right if that’s needed… And also I think about a lot of people using words like agile, like scrum-ing, but they don't really know what it means.” Another said, “Yes, it’s like a buzzword- at first it was a new way of working, trying to reduce old ineffective ways of working... trying to reduce red tape and unnecessary rules as much as possible… this is what my interpretation of agile is but… getting more knowledge of agile, I got kind of disappointed”. Some had a more neutral definition: “[agile] is a way of working in which you are flexible in how you go from start to end... so that you also can adjust to circumstances that ask for a different approach” while others couldn’t confidently describe it: “I’ve heard about it but I don’t know any more what it means.”
A selection of what practitioners had to say about agile
How accessible and relatable is agile to planning departments?
The mixed responses from the interviews reinforce what was found in the academic perspective and further lend to the idea of a nuanced answer. Agile is accessible and can be relatable to planning departments in certain forms (its principles transcend the field of software development), but it must be implemented in an agile way and a shift in how the parties pushing an agile way of working act towards a more mutual learning process is needed. Agile should work for the the planning department, not the other way around.
Update: since this blog post was written, an academic article has been published on the thesis research (see here, open access).