Agile or Agility; Chef or Cook? Business Agility / The Guardian Podcast

Agile or Agility; Chef or Cook? In the latest edition of the Guardian Podcast, I talk with Stephen Townsend of the ‘The Project Management Institute’ or PMI as it is often known. Stephen is back for a second time on the podcast to discuss the release of the ‘PMI Pulse of the Profession in-depth reports: Achieving Greater Agility and The Drivers of Agility’. It’s a really good conversation and I hope you can listen. Here are the links:, or

One of the things that impressed me the most was Stephen’s answer to my question about the ways Agile and Agility compliment the other. He made the following observation about the Agile and Agility Distinctions: ‘Agile’ is a mindset based on key values and principles that are designed to enable better collaboration and create more value. On the other hand, ‘Agility’ is a capability on teams and inside organizations that allows them to quickly adapt to changes in the internal and/or external environment and deliver results more rapidly. So ‘Agility’ on the project team is what we think of when we think of things that have the quality of being agile. A cheetah on the run is agile as are gymnasts. Got it. So which is best?

Chef or Cook?

The analogy Stephen used about the differences between Agile and Agility were likened to that of a chef and a cook. While first learning to cook, the ‘process map’ is the recipe. A cook can take a recipe, add the correct ingredients in the order and amounts required, and end up with what he/she had in mind. A chef on the other hand, can create based on what is wanted, what he/she was asked for, or prepare a meal based on the ingredients that are available at the time. A chef will blend, experiment, taste, retry to create a unique item. The best project teams learn and grows together as they work to a common goal. So to take it a bit further, a project team may first be a group of like-minded cooks, but end up with chefs who have the experience and foundation to create organizational project related outcomes that are masterpieces.

Agile or Agility; Chef or Cook

Agile or Agility; Chef or Cook?

What Matters Most?

According to Stephen, it was the characteristic of Agility inside a project team that was most critical for success, as measured by the better financial results. Cool! He also allowed that the approach a project team adopted needed to be tied to the unique qualities of the project, the people on the team, and the unique qualities of the organization. He related this to three steps every project team leader or manager should have in mind prior to starting. Here they are:

  1. The team takes ownership and understands they are responsible for solving a problem that is important to the progress of the organization.
  2. The members if the team should be able to foster creative thinking, be comfortable with ambiguity, and understand they (as a group) have responsibility for delivering an outcome. They should also have permission to be creative from their leadership and each other.
  3. Make a good foundational choice, regardless of whether its Agile or Scrum, or Waterfall or even some combination. The team should also be interested in the process and ways to improve.

“We looked at both elements (Agile and Agility) and found that organizations with high levels of ‘agility’ reported more projects meeting their original business intent, regardless of the approach,” Stephen told me.  “These better results were tied more closely to greater revenue growth, on average about 5% more growth.” But he did not discount the importance of the foundation or approach used, nor the qualities that made teams more successful.

People, Project Method, or Both?

It’s both according to Stephen, the people and the methodology.  While giving props to people who were lifetime learners and the way they approached their work in general, he also said, “project team members will capture the skill and expertise from training but continue learning and developing expertise while doing.”  To take further still, people working on a project work in a group. “Those group members should rely on each other for different skills but also learn as they all work together,” Stephen said.

Like I said at the outset, this is a really interesting conversation and I hope that you will take the time to listen. Thank you for reading the blog, see you next time, Ryn. Agile or Agility; Chef or Cook Agile or Agility; Chef or Cook Agile or Agility; Chef or Cook Agile or Agility; Chef or Cook Agile or Agility; Chef or Cook Agile or Agility; Chef or Cook Agile or Agility; Chef or Cook Agile or Agility; Chef or Cook Agile or Agility; Chef or Cook Agile or Agility; Chef or Cook

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