'Ultra agile' and the illusion of having a plan

We like being "agile" here at Offroadcode, we believe it is the only sensible way to react and cope with the ever changing nature of the internet when trying to complete a project.

Recently though we don't like how the term "agile" is being hijacked to give the illusion of having a plan when you clearly don't.

"Oh its ok, we don't need a plan, this is an agile project"

On any trip or project you still need to know roughly where you are going so you move in the right direction, this however is just feeling around in the dark and bouncing off obstacles at random angles like some sort of robotic hover all under the banner of "agile".

As an example of this in action previous client of ours once described their way of internally working as "ultra agile".

Their understanding of what they meant by "ultra agile", when I probed them on it, is that they can "pivot" (change direction in a project/feature) several times, sometimes within the same phone call, and they thought this was a strength. No time was wasted on dead end feature if they raised the deadends early enough, well that was the idea. However they had a habit of switching focus with alarming speed and regularity.

Every pivot is costly in some way such as in time lost context switching, of parking yet another a half completed feature which has eaten time and budget to move on to a more pressing feature (that 9/10 times would also get parked). Pivoting is very powerful and needed within an agile project but only if the gains out way the cost. Otherwise the project can very quickly end up with a huge collection of half finished features and not much to show for it that is actually complete or usable and of course it empties the budget real fast.

When I heard them use the term "ultra agile" I found it funny at first, a nice play on words, but then the more I thought about it and saw they meant it the more I got annoyed at the missuse or at least misunderstanding of the word "agile" from both them but also other clients and rival agencies.

This is not agile, this is simply running around like a headless chicken without a plan and it will hurt your project, your budget and your relationships with your developers/stakeholders. Its fire fighting at best. It stinks of a lack of a bigger picture, direction or long term plan. Please don't confuse convincing yourself that not having a plan is "agile"...its simply not having a plan.

So if you ever do hear someone describe themselves as ultra agile,my advice is pivot away and run a mile.