What You Need to Know about All the Approaches to Agile Principles




From its humble beginnings in software development, Agile has spread to nearly every function within a typical business. In the process, its core ideas have been adapted time and time again. Various Agile manifestos each take their own approach to Agile principles.

It’s no surprise how easy it can be to get stuck in the weeds as you try and figure out how to adapt a specific manifesto to your needs. For example, if Agile focuses on stakeholder value, who is the stakeholder in HR? If you have multiple stakeholders, like in creating contracts, do you just ignore this?

Ultimately knowing how to adapt Agile comes down to understanding its core principles. So let’s run through how several major Agile manifestos each approach principles to appreciate what connects them all and what you can learn from them.

What Are Agile Principles?

Agile, as we know it today, got its start at the beginning of the millennium when 17 software developers got together to develop a new way to address the grinding inefficiencies of their work processes. They were tired of working on projects for months (or years) only to deliver something that no longer met customer requirements.

That’s how the original Agile framework focused on shortening the time needed to deliver benefits to users and to quickly gather feedback. By combining improved speed to market, more rapid feedback, and continuous improvement, Agile could overcome the frustrations developers experienced in the early days.

Based on that Agile manifesto, its creators also developed 12 Agile principles to further clarify the goals, methods, and ideas behind Agile. All of this was designed to avoid one thing: fake Agile.

The Importance of Understanding “Fake Agile”

The Agile world is full of misconceptions. They often result in “Fake Agile”, which is essentially when you think you are being Agile but are not. For example, you may start using daily standups or tracking your work on a visual board. However, at the same time, you may be spending months working on something before ever showing it to a stakeholder.

In other words, you’re working more or less the same way as before, just with a few tweaks. This often results in people thinking they are Agile but wondering why they’re not getting the benefits. In other words, teams end up with the worst of both worlds. The best way to avoid this is by understanding the underlying principles behind Agile ways of working.

How The Software Agile Manifesto Approaches Agile Principles

Even within the world of software development, the originators of Agile knew that it could be approached in many different ways. That’s why they began with a manifesto designed to guide teams in using it. This resulted in 12 Agile software principles.

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

What’s interesting is that the majority of these 12 principles can, and will, be applied to areas outside of software development. Only a few are really specific to software development. For example, principle seven states that “Working software is the primary measure of progress.” While that’s obviously specific, it also reflects the general principle that Agile is about delivering value to shareholders, not excuses, documentation, or anything else.

The other more specific Agile principle to be found here is number nine, “Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.” Again this is somewhat specific to software, but the focus on quality also reflects the broader Agile focus on stakeholder value. Delivering something subpar just to be able to say it’s delivered is not Agile.

Now let’s look at how Agile principles evolved and adapted to meet the needs of other functions.

How The Agile Marketing Manifesto Approaches Agile Principles

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of marketing that solves problems.
  2. We welcome and plan for change. We believe that our ability to quickly respond to change is a source of competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver marketing programs frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Great marketing requires close alignment between people, sales, and development.
  5. Build marketing programs around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. Learning, through the build-measure-learn feedback loop, is the primary measure of progress.
  7. Sustainable marketing requires you to keep a constant pace and pipeline.
  8. Don’t be afraid to fail; just don’t fail the same way twice.
  9. Continuous attention to marketing fundamentals and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity is essential.

Looking at the 10 principles of Agile marketing, it’s clear that they closely match the 12 originals from software development. The single standout is principle nine, “Continuous attention to marketing fundamentals and good design enhances agility,” which discusses focusing on marketing fundamentals.

This is a version of the technical excellence principle but instead focuses on the fact that being Agile and experimenting often should not come at the expense of marketing fundamentals. In other words, don’t do things differently just for the sake of doing things differently and think you’re being Agile.

In a way, this reflects good experimental design. When designing any kind of experiment, whether in science or marketing, your hypothesis shouldn’t be random. Any experiment you want to try should be based on an educated guess regarding what might improve performance.

How The Agile Sales Manifesto Approaches Agile Principles

  1. Great sales require close alignment, transparency, and quality interactions with internal and external customers
  2. Embrace and respond to change to enhance customer value
  3. Through active listening, propose a solution only to a level sufficient to ensure effectiveness and customer satisfaction, then expand based on emerging needs
  4. Frequent collaboration between cross-functional teams and customers
  5. Nourish and support the people’s and team’s motivation and capabilities, help them build the environment they need, and trust them to get the job done
  6. Face-to-face conversation is the best form of value exchange
  7. Customer satisfaction and loyalty is the primary measure of progress
  8. Sustainable value exchange, able to maintain a mutually agreed pace of work
  9. Continuous attention to sales solution excellence, responsible and ethical sales practices
  10. Strive for simplicity but recognize when only ‘complexity will solve complexity’
  11. Help to build and support networks of empowered, self-organising and collaborative teams
  12. Nurture personal growth, learn from both success and failure, harness your strengths and embrace the different strengths of team and customer

Because Agile sales is still relatively new, you can find many different versions of Agile principles applied to the sector. That said, most examples of Agile sales principles out there closely follow the precedent set by other Agile principles.

For example, they emphasize the value of face-to-face meetings, frequent collaboration, focus on customer value, etc. One interesting difference is an emphasis on “responsible and ethical sales practices.” Another mentions “close alignment, transparency, and quality interactions with internal and external customers.” However, this mostly reflects the same attention to quality and providing real value that we mentioned previously.

The Agile Contracts Manifesto’s Approach to Agile Principles

  1. Our highest priority is to create a positive outcome for the ultimate customers and for all contracting parties.
  2. Collaboration is about more than delivery. The contract is part of the process. Agile collaboration is inclusive, starts before the contract is signed, and extends beyond just the delivery of value.
  3. Contract, relationship and governance need to move together. The contract defines the rules of the game. Ensure consistent rules to encourage transparency, integrity, empowerment, autonomy, clarity of purpose, and collaboration.
  4. A successful partnership learns and adapts throughout the life of the engagement. The challenge of developing governance is creating enough control while enabling effective, results-oriented work.
  5. Minimize the effort spent on non-value producing work. Ensure effort and time focused on indirect activities are optimized and in proportion to the productive activity.
  6. Impediments can arise anywhere in a collaboration. A successful result depends on a smooth communication and information flow across boundaries to rapidly identify and respond to issues.
  7. Embed mechanisms to manage risk rather than merely allocate risk. Manage risk through transparency, frequent delivery and fast feedback.
  8. Ensure clarity on needs and available capabilities. Contract for what is really needed and understand what is really being sold.
  9. Continuity and sustainability are essential for long-lived solutions. The team which creates a new solution develops unique knowledge about the product, the technology, risk management, the market, and each other.
  10. A good contract is one that anybody can understand.

Looking at how Agile principles have been adapted to contracts shows how you can create principles that are quite different from those mentioned previously while sticking to the same core ideas. 

For example, instead of focusing on stakeholder value, the first principle here states that “highest priority is to create a positive outcome for the ultimate customers and for all contracting parties.” This reflects the reality that contracts don’t have a single stakeholder while still giving those using these principles a focus on creating real value for those involved. 

Principle 3 mentions consistent rules for the sake of transparency, integrity, empowerment, autonomy, etc. on the part of the contracting parties. You won’t find anything similar in the other lists mentioned here, but the ultimate goals this principle seeks to promote are precisely what all the Agile approaches mentioned here aim for.

Throughout the list, you find principles that initially sound totally unique, but on further inspection actually promote common Agile values. This is an excellent illustration of how Agile can be modified substantially while not succumbing to “fake Agile”.

The Agile HR Manifesto’s Approach to Agile Principles

  1. Captivate employees and nourish their passion and potential through valuable experiences and exceeding expectations.
  2. Shape and scale a strong culture that ensures key values are lived up to and remain at the core of how purposeful delivery and interactions take place.
  3. Organize around value streams and build a network of empowered, self-organizing, and collaborative teams and support the creation of a scalable structure and environment.
  4. Co-create a stimulating work environment and give people the support and trust they need to get the job done.
  5. Strengthen the intrinsic motivation and drive of people and provide meaningful recognition and celebrate success.
  6. Support continuous feedback and relentless improvement; and facilitate and encourage continuous learning, exchange of ideas, information, knowledge, and skills.
  7. Invest in human connections and build strong relationships; and care about the happiness, health and welfare of your people.
  8. Respond to individual needs and aspirations; and establish encouraging methods of stimulating and boosting meaningful progress and growth.
  9. Co-create meaningful HR solutions in an iterative and incremental approach.
  10. Be proactive, learn quick, and improve constantly to deliver value; and remember: Simplicity beyond complexity – the art of maximizing the amount of work that is not done – is essential.

Much like the Agile contract principles, Agile HR’s list of principles looks substantially different at first glance. This reflects the reality that, unlike all of the other functions mentioned here, HR isn’t usually working to produce a kind of product. Instead, this example shows how Agile can be adjusted to better manage and empower people.

Principles like “Invest in human connections and build strong relationships; and care about the happiness, health and welfare of your people” look very different from the other lists of Agile principles we’ve mentioned. But the reality that Agile is built on a foundation of trust, transparency, accountability, and empowerment means that from an Agile HR perspective, this is just as important as something like continuous improvement.

Put another way, HR’s Agile principles are designed as much to enable Agile working with others as they are to use Agile in HR itself.

What Does This All Teach Us about Agile Principles?

If there’s a single takeaway from comparing these six different approaches to Agile principles it’s that they are remarkably similar. For the most part, each one simply adjusts language to reflect the specifics of their function while keeping the general idea exactly the same.

Only functions like procurement or HR in which the basic style of work, in which a team produces something for a single stakeholder, is different do the Agile principles vary significantly. 

This shows just how adaptable Agile principles are in practice. But it also shows that what makes Agile work in all of these contexts is the fact that these dozens of principles all relate back to core ideas found in the original Agile manifesto.

Much in the same way an engineer can apply the same principles towards building a bridge or designing a car, an understanding of Agile fundamentals is what empowers practitioners to freely apply Agile in a huge variety of ways. The trick is getting that foundation.

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