A tour of the Agile tribes

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Your friendly neighborhood Agile Archivist is back! With this post I’d like to introduce a series – a potentially long-running one, for reasons that will shortly become obvious.

Some time ago – I couldn’t pinpoint when – some of my colleagues on the Agile Alliance board, and several others, took to referring to the annual Agile conference as “the Gathering of the Tribes”. (Here’s an example.)

This term, “tribes”, has some appealing features. A tribe is a more modest thing than a discipline or a field or a movement. In modern usage, the term has lost the connotations of exclusivity that its etymology implies (part of its root is Latin for “three”, for the original three divisions of the Roman state). Many of us belong to more than one of the “Agile tribes”.

I don’t mean to make too much of the term “tribes”, itself. Some people such as Dave Logan or Seth Godin have written about it. Some of their insights may be relevant.

What matters for the purpose of this blog – to elucidate the question “just what do we mean by Agile anyway?” – is that it would be very, very hard for someone coming across the Agile Alliance’s web site to come to the correct conclusion: that what the term means is largely defined by which tribes participate in the community. Even harder to form any impression of what these tribes are.

As a first step toward correcting that, I’d like to take a stab at identifying the major tribes that come together every year for the conference, and then devote one brief post to each of them, trying to the best of my (sometimes imperfect) knowledge to describe what binds them as a tribe, and what distinguishes them from the others. (This has been attempted before, but not completed, as best I can tell.)

This list is very probably not complete; please don’t take offense if I’ve overlooked yours. It’s offered in the same spirit as the “subway map” of Agile practices – as a work-in-progress, which hopefully I’ll improve and refine with your help:

  • Scrum
  • Extreme Programming
  • Agile Testing
  • Retrospective Facilitators
  • Lean Software
  • Agile Management
  • Agile Coaches
  • Software Craftsmanship
  • Product Owners
  • Lean Startup
  • Lean Kanban
  • DevOps
  • Agile UX
  • Serious Games

Now, you tell me – which ones am I missing?


About the Author

After a first career as a software developer (20 years of coding experience) and a few years as an independent consultant, Laurent Bossavit now heads Institut Agile, whose aims include helping Agile software development become better established as a research topic and as a discipline, and helping grow a healthier market for clients and suppliers leveraging these practices.

Passionate about helping people in various Agile communities network and support each other, Laurent is a former member of the board of the Agile Alliance, a recipient of the 2006 Gordon Pask award for contributions to Agile practice and co-founder of the Coding Dojos.


This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.

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