OpenAgile, not just another bad gorilla joke.

It is probably fortunate Hogarth eats so many bananas. The smell of them makes it nearly impossible for him to sneak up on me. And if you’ve never had a 900 pound gorilla sneak up on you, you’ve never had a project go from green to all hands on deck in a matter of hours. But I digress.

“What’r you doing?” Hogarth asked around a double mouthful of bananas.

“Reading about OpenAgile” I said, not looking up from the small booklet.

Hogarth flopped onto my desk, “Oh man, are we going to Open Agile this year? I always wanted to see eastern France!”

I sighed, good gorillas are so hard to find. Looking up I fixed my black furred friend with an annoyed glance. “Not Agile Open the conference, Hogarth. OpenAgile the methodology.”

“We’re not going to France?”

I shook my head, “No, we’re not going to France.”

My gorilla sulked away, leaving me to ponder his understandable confusion and one of the newest Agile methodologies gaining traction in Agile and Project Management communities.

I had my first exposure to OpenAgile only a few months ago. OpenAgile’s executive director, David Parker, had just moved from back East to the Bay Area and local Agile champion Agile Learning Labs hosted an evening informational session. Over good pizza and way to many caffeinated sodas around twenty project managers and agilistas were exposed to the foundational roots of OpenAgile. Just before Christmas I then had an opportunity to take the OA Team Member training from David and OA co-founder Garry Berteig.

So what is OpenAgile and why did I take two days from the year end madness of work to go to this training? Well the latter question is the easier one to answer. As I talk about in the “Every project is a screwdriver”, I would rather have a low cost toolbox with a wide assortment of tools, than a single super, high quality screwdriver. I am always in pursuit of new tools to add to my project manager toolbox and OpenAgile looked to be a whole socket wrench set worth of tools.

So what is OpenAgile? Well if you go to their website ( Their current mission statement reads.

“OpenAgile’s mission is to continuously bring the best of Agile methods & teamwork beyond Software Development“.

Frankly I think the mission statement does it a disservice. Yes, Agile started in the software development space, but it is can be so much more than that and if you tie the anchor of software dev around your neck proclaiming “we’re not for software dev!” you might have folks saying “Methinks he doth protest to much.” Translation, folks may not give you a second look, thinking you won’t work for them. The mission statement assumes you know what the “best of Agile” is, which won’t get you many converts outside of Agile. Which is a shame, because I think OpenAgile has a lot of potential.

When I had to describe it to someone, I opted to describe it as “A simple, but highly expandable, open framework for managing any kind of project.” Short, simple, and I think very descriptive. What I’ve liked about Agile, as a whole, is its focus on customer needs (your stakeholders), managing and embracing change (change management), and it’s over whelming drive to always ask “Why?” I’ve seen too many projects fail because of bad inertia. Things get moving and no one raises up their head to make sure they are going in the right direction.

But classic Agile is still very software focused. The manifesto if called “Manifesto for Agile Software Development” and one of the core principles is “Working software over comprehensive documentation.” Kind of makes it hard to sell to a hardware manufacturing house, now doesn’t it? Scrum is an excellent methodology, I use my own CSM training extensively in my day to day work for a major manufacturing company. But it was built originally for software and while flexible and adapting has limitations that make it hard to use in many types of business.

OpenAgile took an alternative approach to the still adapting Scrum models and stripped everything back to the start and then began building up again. In the process it drew in concepts from outside the ‘traditional’ Agile approach and tackled the problem from the team first and the project/product absolute second. With the three core foundations of “Truthfulness”, “Consultative Decision Making”, and the “Learning Circle” OpenAgile has a strong focus on how the team functions. The Learning Circle takes the Scrum retrospective a step further, tying the end of the cycle firmly back to the beginning and really showing how a “cycle” can not only start at any stage (which is great considering how often project managers get assigned to projects already under way) but feeds back on itself to ensure what you learn is applied to what you do.

Now with the praise I have to talk about the other side of the coin. I think OpenAgile has a lot of potential, but it is still young even as Agile methodologies go. It’s got a strong foundation in their iterative cycle model (Sprints for you Scrum types), but I feel it is still missing some depth that will come from more use, development and feedback. If people dig into it, use it, and grow it then it could become the next main stream project management methodology. If it fails to gain traction, fails to evolve, fails to grow, it will be a nice talking points concept but very difficult to put into practice.

OpenAgile has a pretty daunting uphill road to climb to become the next Scrum or Waterfall, but one of the biggest things it has going for it is the “Open” part of its name. Like true Opensource, OA is open to modification and adaptation, all of which can and does find its way back into the “main branch” of the methodology. If people use it, it will become better.

It may not yet be a full 50 piece socket wrench set, but I’d definitely rate it as a full set of screwdrivers.

Joel BC
Veteran, the Project Manager wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Who is Hogarth? Read Blog 001 to find out all about my personal gorilla.

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