Agile Values & Principles – Drop and Forget

Author: Mike Leber

July 24, 2020

In a previous article I wrote about the essence of agile values and principles and how they’re probably essential for any business now and in the future. However, I also argued, you might check, what you could easily drop without being punished by your market soon.

So here comes the litmus test, which I’d love to invite you to check for yourself, with your teams or even with some of your clients. Let’s look at the content of the so called agile manifesto and start with the value pairs.

You remember, stuff on the right was of course still considered valuable, just that this was quite often experienced to be too dominant. While stuff on the left side was valued more by the authors, due to better experiences, which probably match market trends.

So if you look at your business, for the presence and for the near future, …

  • How does a bigger emphasize on individuals (people) an interactions (social system) not play any vital role anymore in your organization? How would you rather start focusing more again on processes and tools, in order to succeed? Any of you “digital” and innovation initiatives walking this way? That’s ok, no worries, just go ahead.
  • And what about working products (see: I replaced the term “software”)? How important is it to focus on something done, something of high value, ready to be delivered, frequently, maybe something to learn fast from? Or is comprehensive documentation, concepts, specifications, business plans, project plans or anything alike something of just equal or even more importance?
  • How is customer collaboration way closer, you might have thought so far, and vital for your business? What are the channels to engage more in? And would it even be relevant to be considered for partners or even former competitors (turning them into partners at some points) too? Maybe draw a map of your ecosystem with all your stakeholders and relationships. Or would you rather spend energy and time on contract negotiation (with the emphasize on negotiation)?
  • Is responding to change not just a no-brainer these days? How would it differ from just reacting to change? Or does your business prefer sticking to its plans, whatever happens? And what would be the events, where building a more responsive capability is just indispensable? Where instead could you rather stick to plans due to calmer waters or your very unique position? But wait: remember, even Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, who shake up industry after industry, fears nothing more than bureaucracy. And that’s why they stick to a “forever day-one” culture. Just saying.

You don’t need to get stuck there. A few years after the publication of the agile manifesto, Kent Beck, one of its co-authors, event went further, presenting an updated dimension for the value pairs.

Ok, so much about the values and now we can check the principles. Maybe just a few of them. Maybe those, where you always lacked, but wanted more. How are they still relevant? How could you just ignore them, because they are literally in the blood of each of your employees and won’t vanish? Or are they just irrelevant, twenty years after its publication?

For the values above as well as for the principles you can use a qualitative scale. Take a scale from 1 to 10. Think were you currently are? How do different people see same things differently (diversity trumps coherence)? And, if it is relevant at all, how could you make just one or two steps forward on the same scale?

  1. Top prio to satisfy customers. Each and every day, through early and continuous delivery of valuable products.
  2. Being ready to change the product for your customer’s (competitive) advantage. At any given time. Even late in a development process.
  3. Frequently delivering working products. As fast and frequent possible.
  4. Fostering daily collaboration between business and technology people. Oh, remember your “digital” strategies. By the way, guess where you will find business people, if you visit Google?!
  5. Make motivation of your people a top priority. From there give them all power they need to build the products, deliver and improve their services. You remember? Dedicated ownership and distributed leadership.
  6. Have development teams communicate face-to-face (even a monitor in-between counts). So this will also work remotely. But would you prefer having them specifying designs and decisions in documents? Would you see this to be more efficient and effective? Try to analyze the data, you already have.
  7. Making your working and valuable products, what you delivered the primary measure of progress. Or what other measures are on your top list. And how can you be sure, they are not just vanity metrics?
  8. And what about sustainability in your organization? How does your process make sure, people are enjoying life, hence are creative, motivated and engaged. You hopefully have no workaholics and burn-out cases?
  9. How about greatness in design, quality of implementation and deliverables? Hopefully no after-work, no slowdowns, and no unhappy customers due to quality issues?
  10. Are you after maximizing output (number of products and product features) or more after maximizing outcome (true solutions, pain killers or gain creators)?
  11. How much does your organization sit in silos when working on wicked problems? Or is your business just a simple one, with repetitive tasks, where self-organizing teams are not so relevant? Otherwise, how self-organized are they?
  12. And how frequent does your organization, every part of it reflect, learn and improve? How and especially where can your organization see progression in terms of effectiveness? And has effectiveness already reached its maximum plateau, nothing more to do about it? And if we leave it there, we can be sure, it won’t roll back?

You might have found out during the exercise, that there was not always a clear answer for any of you own examples.

You might have struggled, especially as a team. This is actually it. These values and principles are not at all supposed to be taken religiously. They are just common sense, more today than every before.

And they can brilliantly serve you and your teams for deep conversations, leading to decisions and further learning. But would you drop these forever and just declare it irrelevant? I doubt so.

Mike Leber

If you are interested in open & honest deep dives on agile ways of working, consider one of our workshops. We always have a rich menu and most of the events are now available Online.
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