Simplifying Agile Principles

  1. Scrum and Agile practices, once the sole domain of software developers, are making significant inroads outside of IT and finding acceptance in industries beyond technology.  2016 State of scrum report emphasized this. 
  • The agile mindset was recognized in 2001 at a summit of practitioners who found consensus around core values captured in 12 principles called the “Agile Manifesto.  

If you closely look at these two statements, there is a problem.   

The Agile principles were thought and build around software development by software practitioners.  Obviously, the phrases of principles have much software or IT specific terminologies such as early and continuous delivery of valuable software OR emergent architecture & technical design OR working software as principle measure of progress, so on and so forth.  People from non IT / non technology industry may find it difficult to co-relate the principles directly to their work.   

We need more generic phrases applicable across industries, by simplifying the principles without losing its core essence. The face is many agile coaches and gurus have already done so;  This blog is collection & compilation of simplified / rephrased principles, that may help Agile enthusiastic from both IT and non-IT Industry.

Principle 1 –   Our highest priority is to satisfy customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software 

Pay attention on ‘customer satisfaction’, you may ignore ‘delivery of valuable software’ part, rather think of something relevant to you / your industry.  In reality, it doesn’t matter what the deliverable is (software or some mechanical product or something else); what matters is customer satisfaction, which comes only upon return on investment. So, 1st principle of Agile is “Customer ROI”.

*Here ‘you’ is referring to someone from non-IT industry 

Principle 2 –   Welcome changing requirements, even in late development

How you can make yourself (you, your team, your process or your solution) welcoming to changes in requirement?  

By  keeping your solution / process / tool / service / design changeable.   Yes, 2nd Agile principle is “Changeable” 

Principle 3 –   Working software is delivered frequently (weeks rather than months)

Again, you may ignore ‘working software’ part and pay attention on ‘delivered frequently’.  It’s all about ‘Getting Real”as close as real time response to customer need.

Principle 4 –   Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers

Daily standup is most popular and arguably most effective way to achieve it.  Your business context may not allow you to do so. Read again this principle and think what it wants to achieve. Yes, it’s all about “Clarity”.  4th Principle is to bring more clarity to everyone and everything. You may design your own way to achieve it.

Principle 5 –   Projects are built around motivated individuals, give them environment and support their needs, and trust them to get the job done

It is already generic.  “Self organizing team” is the 5th principle of agile.

Principle 6 –   Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)

Co-location may not work well for every industry. What can work well is investment on tools and bandwidth to create virtually co-located teams / workspace.  Invest in bandwidth. 

Principle 7 –   Working software is the principal measure of progress

In non-IT you don’t have working software, so what can be your principle measure of success ?   

Pay attention on the first and last part viz ‘Working’ and ‘measure of success’.   Here it means “Boolean done” – either something is done(working) or not done, Measure of success cannot be on something work in progress or partial completion; nothing like 40 % complete or 80 %  complete. 

This is really interesting and important.   None of your matrices / MIS should be on partial or % completion.    

Design your matrices with Boolean done approach to embrace 7th principle. 

Principle 8 –   Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace

People are not resource, they are people.   If your team / people are working extra time, they will burn out soon; if they are working too less, they will bored soon.  Need to have a balance; understand people’s need and accordingly frame your working rules and process.  8th principle is about “sustainability”, and it comes from treating people as human and not as resource.  

[By the way who invented the term – “human resource”?  I hate him/her in my subconscious mind]

Principle 9 –   Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design

Pay attention on ‘continuous attention’ and ignore the ‘technical excellence or design’ part, if it is not applicable to your industry.  But, don’t misunderstood continuous attention with micro management or continuous follow up.   9thprinciple is about review and “Continuous Collaboration”.

Principle 10 –    Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential

Nobel prize winner poet Rabindranath Tagore said-  ‘It is very simple to be happy, but it is very difficult to be simple.’  10th principle is in the same lines, how to make things simple.   

Be it process, rules, tools, reporting,  governance or operating model or your code & architecture (sorry, I broughtsome IT stuff here).   Often people make things complicated, either out of nature or out of making something too perfect or out of over thinking. 

Agile is all about “Simplicity”.

Principle 11 – Best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams

You may comfortably ignore ‘architecture and design’ etc, and pay attention on ‘emerge from self-organizing team’.  If you abide to 5th principle (self organizing team), all you need is to have patience and belief; things will “Evolve” and take best shape itself.  

Principle 12 – Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective, and adjusts accordingly

No point for guessing this. It’s “Inspect and adoptfrequently”.   Again frequency should be sustainable, neither too frequent nor too less. 

Summary Chart –

PrincipleCore essence
1ROI (return of investment)
3Getting Real  / Real – time
5Self organizing team
6(Virtually) co-located 
7Boolean done
8Sustainable pace
9Continuous collaboration / review
12Inspect and Adopt, frequently  

As mentioned above, this post is more of a compilation or collection of the thoughts presented by many agile coaches and gurus time to time, and some original thoughts may have been unintentionally overridden by other.  Apology for any such case.  

My sincere regards and thanks to Dr. Andreas Wintersteiger, his training and session inspired me to start looking at agile principles in more generic and simpler way.

The blog was originally published in Scrum Alliance, republishing here with due permission