Agile Values and Principles as Enablers to Agility

Jun 6, 2021 | Agile, Praxis

The Agile Compass

Implementing agility often begins with developing a shared agile vision. In addition, once a suitable agile way of working has been found and adapted accordingly, people are quick to boldly proclaim “We are now doing Agile”. This is a misconception that can unfortunately still be found in many companies years after the introduction of agile working methods. After all, working purely in corresponding frameworks, such as Scrum, Nexus, LeSS or SAFe, does not necessarily guarantee agility. Rather, it is a kind of tool for incremental product development. However, the heart of Agile is the internalized as well as lived values and principles, where the focus is on value creation. The path to integrating Agile ways of working is like a journey, where the values and principles reflect our compass, in line with the motto “the journey is the destination”. Understanding and embracing them in their entirety is the biggest challenge for everyone involved in the agile work environment. Because it does not only affect an individual, it requires an elementary cultural change to a collaborative organization. As a departure to market-oriented development, the agile manifesto with four values and twelve principles was adopted at that time, on which numerous approaches and frameworks, such as those mentioned above, are based today. The latter partly produce their own values as well as principles and can also be applied in other areas or industries than just pure software development. Rigid behavioral patterns are dissolved and working and thinking approaches are reduced to the essentials.

Making a Virtue out of Necessity

Let’s take a brief look back at the origins of agile values and principles. Firmly established development approaches and methods resulted in disillusionment and stagnation in software development in the early 2000s. Unleashed by the constantly increasing and changing customer needs, which not only the software industry threatened to run behind, a virtue had to be made of necessity and more responsiveness as well as openness had to enter the companies. Otherwise, the journey threatens to fail bitterly. However, once this hurdle has been overcome, the result is both high-performance teams with a self-organized and entrepreneurial mindset and a fundamentally modernized corporate structure with increased flexibility. Once you have fully internalized agile values and principles, you are able to deal with complex project landscapes and know how to absorb disruptions.

The Origin of our Actions

Values and principles guide our perspectives and make up the significance of our actions. Each individual has their own core values that define them. It is similar for teams, but they also have to find themselves first in order to discover common values.

The following four values emerged from the agile manifesto. They are linked to numerous principles that characterize the agile mindset.

1. Individuals and interactions are placed higher than processes and tools. Taylorism in particular led to an immense waste of the unused talents and unused skills of the company’s own employees. Agile and Lean principles are complementary to each other and seek to eliminate this form of waste, i.e., like Lean, Agile seeks to develop the knowledge and skills of its own employees.

Self-commitment, self-organization and a sense of responsibility form the foundation for the agile way of working. If you embrace this, you will be given the most valuable thing in return: trust. This, combined with a clear vision, leads to more satisfied employees and ultimately results in outstanding results.

Commitment is an Anglicism that is common in the agile work environment and reinforces the previously mentioned aspects. It has significant advantages for the development team as well as for the project management.

A commitment on the part of the development team is equivalent to an assumption of responsibility or a promise to be able to perform the work to be done over a defined period of time. This keeps the workload high and provides the project management with a realistic planning basis.

However, it is crucial here that the development team only commits to the workload that can actually be performed in the specified time while maintaining the same acceptance criteria. At the same time, this protects the team from obscure working conditions or unforeseen influences.

2. Functional products have priority over comprehensive documentation. Market-oriented and incremental product development implies an economic orientation with increased customer satisfaction. With the focus on being able to hand over usable product increments to the market or production in a timely manner and this within each individual development interval, which we understand in practice as so-called sprints, customer needs can be satisfied even faster and customer loyalty intensified.

At the same time, new baselines are constantly drawn by the corresponding publications, which secure progress and thus value creation. Despite all this, documentation remains indispensable with regard to transparency and traceability, whereby the documentation must be reduced to the bare minimum in terms of content and time

In some projects one can see again and again that documents are written and analyzed by proven experts down to the smallest detail, whereas often already 80% of what has been done would have been sufficient. The keyword here is efficiency, to optimize one’s actions in such a way that one also achieves one’s goal as quickly as possible with the least possible effort.

3. Cooperation with the customer has higher priority than contract negotiations. Restrictive contracts with very limited room for maneuver with regard to unforeseen and yet necessary changes often increase the costs of change, which then become all the more expensive.

In contrast, agile working methods are much shorter-cycle and change-acceptant based on the knowledge gained and the company’s own experience. Consequently, cooperation with the customer has a higher priority than protracted contract negotiations.

The direct involvement of the customer in product development also serves to understand the current customer needs in order to be able to ensure continuous product improvement and thus also to retain the customer in the long term

4. Acceptance of changes as opposed to strict adherence to planning. Regardless of the stage of development, significant changes can make or break a product. Untethered from the current market situation, a flexible approach to product development was needed so that one could run in step with customers and respond to changing customer needs, ultimately remaining competitive.

Unlike old-established and rigid project structures, agile ways of working open the door to necessary changes that complement the product without the need for completed project ventures to lose their value. Accordingly, this value seamlessly follows the previous one and its principles.

Last, an important fifth feature in our agile journey cannot go unmentioned. In almost all agile frameworks, the Continuous Improvement Process (CIP) is firmly anchored, for example in the form of so-called retrospectives, and is for numerous experts the most important component of the agile way of working. The constant reflection of one’s own behavior or the elimination of internal differences ensures the continuous improvement of cooperation within the project teams and that value creation can be made more effective.

It is not only here that we again find a strong connection to the principles we have already learned from Lean. A lived attitude of Kaizen can also contribute to the awareness of the agile mindset.

Experience Agility Together

In the meantime, the values and principles that emerged from the agile manifesto are supplemented by several others in numerous professional articles, adapted accordingly. We at Tagueri AG accompany our customers on this journey and pay special attention to the understanding, as well as the living of these agile values and principles.

Written by:

Katharina Wierschem

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