Agile at Its Core: What Are the Agile Values?

When training and coaching others on the ways of agility, it is common to use a phrase like “Agile is a mindset expressed by four values, further deepened by 12 principles, and practiced through a variety of methods.”

Often, shortly after such a statement is made, the question will arise “What is meant by a ‘mindset’?”

Mindset means the way we think about things, how we approach situations, and what we believe, internally and externally, about the world. Some refer to it as a philosophy, or an operating system, that underlies all of our choices and behaviors. In the case of an Agile Mindset, it means acting in alignment with beliefs based on human interaction, collaboration, adaption, and realizing value.

Agile helps us understand mindset using 4 values and 12 principles. A dozen principles is detail for another day. Today, let us consider the four Agile values as first expressed in The Agile Manifesto. First drafted in 2002 (by some software developers at a ski lodge), the Agile Manifesto expresses the four values at the basis of Agile as follows:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Often, teams get caught up in the logistics of Scrum processes and they can quickly lose sight of these values as a basis for making decisions. The Agile values should be used as a litmus for understanding whether an idea or decision is truly “Agile”.

Let’s review each value in more detail.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

The first, and arguably most important, value is that of Individuals and Interactions. This value is as simple as “work together, in real time, face to face when possible.” This kind of communication is the most efficient, as feedback loops occur immediately. Clarity is enhanced, as things are less likely to be “lost in translation”. Lastly, intonations and non-verbal body language provide greater context to what is being communicated.

Working software over comprehensive documentation

This value exhibits a preference for a working solution, as opposed to the full requirements or user manual being written. This value asks you to start now and document only what is necessary, as you go. Software development seems to be where modern Agile originated, yet we can see applications in many other disciplines, from marketing to city government. Because of this, it may be best to amend this value to read “working whatever over comprehensive documentation.” If your product, solution, service, process or whatever you are creating works…. You’re on the right track.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

The emphasis on customer reminds us that products and services need customers to enable their funding. However, this value may be more simply expressed as “Collaboration over negotiation.” In collaboration, it is possible to have a win-win scenario… to put the problem in front of us and co-create a solution. Contrast this with the “give and take” of negotiation. Whether you are talking about customers or co-workers, collaboration is the more Agile approach.

Responding to change over following a plan

This value establishes that while planning is important, the ability to adapt is even more important. We should spend time in planning, preparing and predicting what’s to come. Once the journey begins, however, any number of things might happen. We must continually adapt our plans as new opportunities and insights emerge. This continual cycle of “plan, learn, and adapt” is core to Agile and especially the Scrum framework.

Conclusion

Ultimately, we can summarize the four Agile values as:

“Humans working together to figure out how to accomplish something valuable or worthwhile.”

Throughout history, this is the way that things have gotten done, regardless of situation.

The core Agile values can be referred to anytime a team is in conflict about which choice to make. We can choose the most Agile response by asking ourselves if the choice we are about to make is aligned with these four Agile values. If it is not… it might be time to rethink the decision.

An Alten Company, Cprime is a global consulting firm helping transforming businesses get in sync.