The search for X

by | 24.02.2022

Do you still remember 7th grade maths class? Function equations were the topic. X had to be calculated. At the beginning, the X was often one-digit and even, later it was sometimes odd or negative. It was represented as a fraction or the solution range was restricted in advance. It was always redefined, discussed again and again, and it was particularly strange when classmates had calculated a different X.

I think of this X very regularly when I think about agility.

What is agility?

The German dictionary Duden answers this question surprisingly briefly:

  • noun, feminine
  • figurative usage
  • meaning: agile being, agile way¹

A noun (agility) whose meaning is further described by the corresponding adjective (agile)? Well, that reminds me of maths lessons again: agility = X. And what does the Duden say about agile?

  • adjective
  • figurative usage
  • meaning: showing great agility, active and nimble
  • examples: an agile businessman, she is still very agile physically and mentally despite her age (sorry, I wouldn’t have chosen these examples!)
  • synonyms: bustling, flexible, energetic, busy²

The only thing I can think of is: agile = X. I’m pretty sure that companies that want to become more agile don’t mean they want to become busier or more nimble. Or maybe they do?

Maybe a look at another source on the internet might help…

Many perspectives on agility

“Do you want to wander on and on? See, the good is so close. Only learn to grasp happiness. For happiness is always there.” reads a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It’s unclear to me how Goethe could have known more than 200 years ago that we’d be running a blog with a lot to know, but well, let’s have a look… 😉

Many posts on our blog revolve around the topic of agility:

Obviously, there is a lot to write about agile. And I’m sure there will be many more contributions illuminating the path to agility. Facets will be elaborated, myths demystified, tips and good practices shared. From the list of posts alone – and there are many more articles on the topic worth reading on our blog – you can see that there are many aspects and perspectives. X is not always the same thing, nor can it be. It is something different in every task. And that leads to the crucial question:

What is your X?

I read last week about a German DAX company that operates worldwide and has defined a new logo and positioning. The goal is an agile and fluid brand.³ I studied business administration with one of the people in charge 30 years ago with marketing as a major (our grades were similarly “average”), but I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. As an existing customer of the company, it probably wouldn’t be wrong for me to understand, especially since it was communicated publicly accordingly, but I have no influence on the company and the corresponding communication.

In your company, however, it should definitely be different. If you hear, for example, “We want to be more agile in the future!”, it is best to ask what is meant by this. Often, agile and agility are used like a placeholder, like an X.

  • Does agile working in sales mean working more closely with customers to create quotations or reacting more quickly to problems?
  • Does agile in software development mean continuously gathering customer feedback or developing in shorter iterations?
  • Should the team henceforth not only gather proposals or ideas, but also make the decision on the best proposal or the most exciting idea?

Of course, language is alive and it is also understandable that people associate different things with terms. If I ask you what your favourite colour is and you answer “green”, I might have an idea what you mean. But since there are an infinite number of shades of green, the likelihood is quite high that we mean and understand different things, despite all our understanding. This leads to a central idea: you should find out for yourself and your organisation what your X means and what you associate with it. Here, experience shows that concrete scenarios and key figures are useful:

  • In which situations does your X come into play?
    Example X = improved reaction to action: Sales answers customer emails, hotline calls back customers, marketing operates the chat function on the website, accounting is the contact person for queries about invoices, etc.
  • Within what deadlines or times do you want to react to actions?
    Example X = improved reaction speed: Sales responds to a customer email within 15 minutes, hotline calls customers back within 5 minutes, marketing responds to a chat request on the website within 30 seconds, accounting clarifies problems within 30 minutes etc.

However, when setting the metrics, keep in mind that it is not about the metrics themselves, they are just a means to an end. It’s not about hunting for key figures; self-deception may feel at home in many companies, but it shouldn’t in yours.


I took mathematics as an advanced course in my high school graduation and can still remember that practice makes perfect. The more often I set out to find the X, the easier it was for me. It can work similarly for you and your situation. If you want to become more agile as an organisation, there are probably different reasons. Maybe agility is not the right answer for the task at hand, maybe agility is too rough and you should figuratively determine several decimal places. Here, too, I remember a professor in my studies who always said “approximately” before writing the X with its 8th decimal place on the blackboard. Obviously not all things can be defined in a one-to-one way, but I think if you look at your scenarios and challenges and determine what you want to do differently and also better in the future, then any discussion about X is worthwhile.


Notes (Partly in German):

[1] Duden: Agilität
[2] Duden: agil
[3] The company is a telecommunications corporation that sells us the colour pink as X.

Michael Schenkel has published further articles in the t2informatik blog, including

t2informatik Blog: That's no Scrum

That’s no Scrum

t2informatik Blog: Software development made easy

Software development made easy

t2informatik Blog: Proxy Product Owner

Proxy Product Owner

Michael Schenkel
Michael Schenkel

Head of Marketing, t2informatik GmbH

Michael Schenkel has a heart for marketing - so it is fitting that he is responsible for marketing at t2informatik. He likes to blog, likes a change of perspective and tries to offer useful information - e.g. here in the blog - at a time when there is a lot of talk about people's decreasing attention span. If you feel like it, arrange to meet him for a coffee and a piece of cake; he will certainly look forward to it!​