which agile principles are the most important

Which agile principles are the most important? Some thoughts

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48 percent of all projects are not completed on time. 43 percent exceed their original planned budget and 31 percent fail to meet client goals. That's what the PMI Pulse of the Profession report found. While the report is from 2018, the findings still apply to many companies today. 

To counteract this, more and more organizations are relying on agile working methods. However, only a few succeed in finding and using the right approaches right away. Because: Agile is not a panacea that companies can implement overnight in their structures. Agile consists of numerous agile values and principles that need to be understood and tested in practice. So how and where can companies best start? 

I'll show you what the most important agile principles are that companies should know and implement. To do this, I'll explain where the agile philosophy comes from and what values your organizations should internalize to successfully work agile – without missing deadlines, budget and customer goals. 

The Origin of Agile Principles: What is the Agile Manifesto?

Agile and agile principles have their origins in software development. In the late 1990s, both employees and customers were dissatisfied with project management methods. The discrepancy between customer requirements and delivered products was simply too great. What this meant in practice was that projects were constantly delayed, cancelled, costs exploded, and customers ended up dissatisfied. 

Sound familiar?

The reasons for this status quo were obvious: teams cared more about documenting projects in detail than about customer requirements. In addition, traditional work methods couldn't keep up with customers' ever-changing requirements. It was clear: companies were focusing on the wrong things. They were wasting their efforts. The need for innovative methods that made work more flexible was therefore great.

Who revolutionized the way companies work?

In 2001, the Agile Alliance group got together. It wanted to provide companies with an approach that would allow them to work in a more flexible, responsive, and adaptive way. In the process, the Manifesto for Agile Software Development came out. This captured the key agile principles. In total, they came up with 12 principles that focus on the values and culture of an organization – and turn away from rigid process thinking. 

Agile principles change work processes worldwide

What began as a guide for software development in the early 2000s is now a globally accepted methodology and philosophy. Agile is no longer only used in software development, but serves projects from all areas of work. The 12 principles from the manifesto give project teams great freedom of thought and action. Instead of sticking to rules, procedures and hierarchies, employees live up to agile values and principles. The result: companies do better work in less time.

What are the 4 core principles of Agile methodology?

The manifesto has 4 core values that shape the way Agile works. They form the basis for the 12 principles from the Manifesto, which I'll explain to you after.

1. Individuals and interactions before processes and tools

Agile is about communication. The manifesto emphasizes that exchanges and interpersonal relationships are more important than strictly regulated processes. This means, teams stay in constant contact and talk to each other transparently instead of just holding agreed meetings. And: teams always address questions and suggestions from customers.

2. A working product before comprehensive documentation

The agile way of working dispenses with complicated documentation. Instead, it uses flexible software solutions to manage data, reports and updates. This is critical. After all, the focus of the work should always be on completing a product that meets customer goals. 

3. Collaborate with the customer instead of long contract negotiations 

Agile teams don't just talk to customers and stakeholders at the start of the project. They regularly share ideas and solicit feedback to keep development progress moving in the right direction. Long-winded contracts that need to be adjusted again and again as work progresses are not compatible with Agile. 

4. Reacting to change instead of following a plan

Agile refuses to stick to an elaborate plan over the whole time of a project. Instead, the way of working allows you to react quickly to new insights or customer requirements and implement them. This is the only way to end up with a product that meets the customer's goals.

What are the 12 agile principles? 

You now know the 4 core values of the agile methodology. What agile principles does this translate to in practice?

Agile principle 1: Satisfy customers through early and continuous delivery

In traditional management methods, customers don't get to see the product until it is ready and has already gone through numerous tests. Customers are thus presented with a fait accompli at the end. This also means that if customers want to make changes to the product at the end, teams have a hard time implementing them. Agile delivers partial results at regular intervals. In this way, teams can keep adjusting their work processes so that the result is a high-quality product that satisfies customers. 

Agile principle 2: Break down large work processes into small processes

One large and complex task costs more administrative effort and energy than several small tasks. Therefore, the key agile principles are to always divide large work packages into several small ones. Teams can complete them faster and integrate potentially emerging change requests more easily.

Agile principle 3: Adhere to set timeframes for delivering a product

The agile manifesto specifies that teams adhere to established timelines. Since they don't use rigid, complex schedules for their work, this should be possible at any time. This way, they can constantly evolve a product.

Agile Principle 4: Involve all stakeholders throughout development

In traditional project management methods, each team only does its own part – and has no idea what the others are doing. Agile encourages teams to stay involved throughout all phases of a project. This ensures constant feedback and a valuable product. 

Agile principle 5: Create a motivating work environment

Agile requires project managers to create a supportive and motivating work environment for teams. This way, employees are not afraid to voice their opinions and suggestions for improvement. This improves the final product.

Agile Principle 6: Prefer face-to-face communication over other ways

Agile assumes that face-to-face communication is more efficient than other ways such as emails. Direct exchanges enable people to effectively drive product progress. 

Agile Principle 7: Use working software as a measure of progress

Key agile principles dictate: Teams must measure themselves solely by whether they deliver a working product that satisfies customers. All other benchmarks are less meaningful and ensure a lower quality product.

Agile Principle 8: Maintain a steady pace of development

Organizations should adopt a repeatable and iterative pattern that allows them to constantly evolve the product in a sustainable manner. This prevents teams from becoming overwhelmed or overstretched.

Agile Principle 9: Maintain product quality by paying attention to technical details

The main goal of the agile philosophy is to deliver a value-added product to customers. To do this, an organization needs teams with different skill sets that can handle all technical aspects of a project.

Agile Principle 10: Maintain simplicity

Even though product development is a complex process: in any timebox, employees should keep their focus only on the tasks and goals they have selected beforehand. Otherwise, they will get lost in too much planning.

Agile principle 11: Promote self-organization in the team

Agile organizations promote the self-organization of teams. They perform better that way. They know best how to make the product better and thus increase customer satisfaction.

Agile principle 12: Reflect on performance regularly

You learn from mistakes. It is therefore important to always evaluate completed work and reflect on one's own actions. Only in this way can employees continuously improve. Project managers should therefore regularly use meetings such as Retrospectives to uncover potential for improvement.

Do the 12 agile principles still apply today?

The 12 agile principles were launched back in 2001. Therefore, the question arises:

Are the principles still relevant today?

We can answer this with a clear "yes". The most important agile principles are based on economic reality and human nature – and these do not change. 

Compared to 2001, some principles of the Agile Manifesto have become even stronger. For example, Agile today uses an even more small-scale approach to projects to be even more flexible. For example, there is now daily deployment in many projects. 

Certain principles of the Agile Manifesto have taken on a different meaning. For example, effective communication today no longer must be face-to-face but can also be done via technology such as Zoom. In this way, organizations can work remotely and attract professionals around the world.

What are the most important agile principles?

So even after more than 20 years, the agile manifesto still sums up the most important agile principles. If you align your organization with them, you will develop better products in less time.

The problem: You can hardly implement all principles at once. So where can you start to gradually make your organization agile? Or asked differently: what are the most important agile principles? Or even more radically asked: what is the most important principle of the agile philosophy?

The agile manifesto does give us lots of input. However, it has not established an order that would show us which values and principles are particularly important. Companies only learn this when they start working with Agile. In our experience, these principles have emerged as the foundation for all other principles:

1. Share effectively and constantly 

Communication is the foundation for almost every Agile principle. Without constant sharing, teams can't collaborate effectively or gather regular feedback from the customer. In a nutshell, this is summed up by the core value "individuals and interactions before processes and tools". 

2. Continuously self-reflect

Your work will improve if you constantly question yourself and learn new things, right? That's the only way you'll acquire new perspectives and new skills. You get better. The product gets better. The customer becomes more satisfied. 

A second most important agile philosophy principle is to continuously get feedback for your work – from yourself and from others. The most efficient way to do this is with Retrospectives. With these, teams can evaluate their work and thus perform better in the next task cycle. Agile coach Woody Zuill also recognized the importance of retrospectives when he said:

“If you're going to introduce just one agile practice, it should be retrospectives. Everything else will follow.”

3. Stay flexible

The more precisely we plan, the harder chance hits us. Or to put it in an agile context: the more precise and longer we plan, the harder we are hit by dead ends and change requests from the customer. Staying flexible is therefore one of the basic requirements for successfully implementing many of the 12 agile principles. Only with a high degree of flexibility teams can change direction quickly – and thus drive product development forward.

4. Remember your role

Despite all communication and collaboration, it is indispensable to always remember one's own role. Only when every employee is aware of his or her position and responsibility, a functioning product can emerge in the end. This corresponds exactly to principle number 7 of the agile manifesto. Perhaps this is the most important agile philosophy principle. That’s because if the main goal is to develop and release a high quality product, all other agile values will adjust to it by themselves.

Conclusion: Agile principles and values are changing the world of work

Agile working has its origins in the values and principles of the agile manifesto. Virtually all companies that want to further develop existing solutions or develop entirely new innovations can benefit from applying these agile principles and values. To successfully approach an agile transformation, organizations should focus primarily on the pillars of communication, feedback, and flexibility, as well as their goal of developing a product. Once organizations have internalized these agile values, all other agile principles will fall into place on their own.

A first step to establishing the pillars mentioned above is to introduce retrospectives. Through retrospectives, teams start to intensively reflect on their work and continuously develop it. You have no or only little experience with retrospectives? No problem, with Echometer you can easily establish retrospectives in your team and make the success measurable.

Just look at our website how the tool works and use our tool for free in up to 2 teams. Alternatively, you can watch the Sailing Boat Retro without logging in:

Sailboat Retrospective

Example: Let's imagine we are a sailboat. Tailwind: What drives us forward?

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