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  • Conrad Rebello

The 12 Agile Principles: An Overview of the Agile Manifesto

  • Agile prioritizes early, frequent delivery for continuous feedback and adaptable project direction.

  • Learn how Agile principles guide projects with a focus on collaboration, value delivery, and continuous feedback in short cycles.

  • Agile's focus on small tasks and feedback loops can improve daily routines and goal achievement.

Article title with the words “12 Agile Principles” & “Agile Manifesto”

Reimagining Project Delivery: Introducing Agile Project Management

Born in software development, Agile project management emerged as a response to the limitations of traditional Waterfall frameworks. Agile ideas sprung in 2001, where a group of software developers created the Agile Manifesto, which outlined key principles for a more flexible way to build software. But Agile isn't limited to software. These principles can be applied to many different projects, like marketing campaigns, creating new products (physical or digital), or even personal goals. 

A core Agile idea is delivering working parts of a project early. This might seem like it's just about speed, but it's actually about getting feedback quickly. By delivering early and often, we can see if things are on the right track and make adjustments as needed. This saves time in the long run, because if we wait to deliver everything at once, it might be too late to make changes. 

The 12 Agile Principles: The Heart of Agility

The twelve core principles of Agile, acting as the foundation for successful development, are outlined below.

Principle 1: Customer Focus

A target scope aimed at 3 individuals

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

Agile methodology breaks from the lengthy upfront planning of traditional project management. Its core principle prioritizes customer satisfaction by delivering in iterations and creating a clear Agile roadmap. This continuous feedback loop ensures the product aligns with what users truly need, not what they ‘needed’ or what was speculated. Traditional methods often relied on heavy upfront documentation. This can become outdated as needs change, limiting flexibility later in the project. In this way, agile works in short cycles called sprints, for quick adjustments to ever changing needs. 

Principle 2: Embrace Change

A clock showing an anticlockwise arrow

Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

Traditionally, late changes have been known to disrupt the flow. But consider the upside: these changes could reflect the latest trends and developments, crucial for the product's success. Sticking to the original plan might deliver a functional product, but it may lack the impact of one incorporating these advancements. Even a single feature, reflecting the latest market needs, can drastically improve a product's fortune and give a company a competitive advantage. Agile teams should embrace this – why settle for "good enough" when "perfect" is within reach?  

Principle 3: Rapid Value Delivery

A sandtimer

Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

This principle emphasizes frequent delivery, ideally in cycles of weeks rather than months. This rapid exchange of information keeps the project moving forward with momentum. This benefits both the development team and the stakeholders. For the team, frequent delivery allows for better resource allocation in short bursts and quicker adaptation based on user feedback. Customers, in turn, feel more engaged knowing their input is valued through these frequent interactions, ensuring the final product reflects their evolving needs.  

Principle 4: Cross-functional Collaboration

A team putting together pieces of a giant puzzle

Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

The fourth principle explodes the traditional developer-business silo. It mandates daily collaboration, fostering a "hive mind" within the team. Tight development cycles demand frequent communication, mostly face-to-face conversation. Daily stand-ups with teams help to keep everyone in the loop on progress and the project momentum going, ensuring full transparency in the process. This constant communication fuels a culture of transparency, where ideas flow freely, leading to effectively delivered solutions that might have been missed in a siloed environment.

Principle 5: Empowered Teams Thrive

Two individuals walking up a trend line using the downward shifts as steps

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

Agile projects succeed when they're built around a core team of highly motivated individuals. These team members aren't just skilled, they're passionate about the work and excited to contribute. Create a space where team members feel genuinely motivated, and make sure they have all the resources they need right from the start. Regular check-ins can help resolve any issues, ensuring everything runs smoothly and on time. Remote teams, despite their unique challenges, thrive on trust, which is essential regardless of the project approach. 

Principle 6: Real-Time Clarity

Round the clock

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

This principle champions in-person talks for development teams. Fancy tech can't replace the power of physical interaction. Face-to-face communication minimizes misunderstandings and builds personal accountability. Additionally, sprint retrospectives unlock a richer experience. Nonverbal cues, like body language and facial expressions, go beyond words, revealing underlying emotions, indirectly creating a more nuanced conversation compared to virtual meetings.

Principle 7: Ship to Measure

A checklist with one item ticked, the other canceled

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

Principle no. 7 emphasizes that delivering working software is the most important way to measure progress. A useful product released sooner is more valuable than a potentially perfect product released much later. This principle prioritizes releasing the minimum features needed for users to provide feedback. Completing working features throughout a development cycle (called a Sprint in Scrum) is crucial. In an ideal scenario, each Sprint would result in a product release. Even if frequent releases aren't feasible, finishing features on time within each Sprint allows for clear measurement of progress and overall project completion.  

Principle 8: Sustainable Delivery

An ECG rhythm line with a heart at the end

Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Agile development aims for a sustainable pace. This means everyone involved, from sponsors to developers and users, can work at a consistent speed without burning out. Unrealistic goals and excessive overtime hurt quality. To avoid this, product managers should prioritize planned work and minimize disruptions during a development cycle to keep everyone focused. While Agile welcomes feedback, sprints are set in advance to maintain order.

Principle 9: Craft Fuels Agility

An art piece in progress

Continuous Attention to Technical Excellence and Good Design Enhances Agility.

While shorter cycles and frequent releases are important, Agile also recognizes the need for clean, well-designed code. This "technical excellence" allows for easier future modifications and reduces problems. By continuously improving the codebase, the project teams remains agile and able to deliver valuable software consistently. To achieve this, it's crucial to address technical debt (code shortcuts that create future issues) and fix bugs and performance issues promptly.  

Principle 10: Focus on Value

Three individuals staring at a chart

Simplicity—the Art of Maximizing the Amount of Work Not Being Done—is Essential.

The successful Agile way prioritizes simplicity. The core principle is to maximize the value delivered while minimizing complexity. Just like the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule), where 80% of results come from 20% of the effort, Agile focuses on the features and tasks that deliver the most value. This means carefully selecting what gets built and avoiding unnecessary complexity that can slow progress. By focusing on simplicity, Agile teams can deliver the most impactful features quickly and efficiently.

Principle 11: Empowered Ownership

A team standing together

The Best Architectures, Requirements and Designs Emerge from Self-organizing Teams.

Agile development breaks from the traditional approach of relying solely on individual specialists. Instead, it emphasizes the power of self-organizing teams. These teams bring together members with various skills to collaboratively define the best approach, requirements, and design for a project. This teamwork allows for ongoing discussions and early problem-solving, leading to a more unified and well-integrated final product. 

Principle 12: Reflective Agility

A person thinking

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

Agile teams regularly take time to reflect on their work, identify what's working well, and what could be better. This self-assessment allows them to adapt their approach for future sprints and become more effective overall. It's a continuous learning process that helps individuals, teams, and the entire business stay ahead of the curve. This self-reflection isn't about assigning blame – it's about collaboratively identifying areas for improvement. Ultimately, this translates to better project outcomes, happier team members, and ultimately, a more successful business.

Beyond Methodology: Integrating Agile Core Values into Your Day

A woman sitting with her laptop with the different tasks of the day revolving her

Agile software development is often seen as a set of rules or a project management approach. However, the true power of an agile mindset lies in the underlying philosophy of its core values and principles. These principles, like continuous improvement and working in short sprints, encourage teams to be flexible and adaptable, delivering value quickly.

Here are four key takeaways you can integrate into your daily work, regardless of your role or project type:

Embrace Continuous Learning:

Agile teams don't just follow a plan blindly. They constantly reflect on their workflow and identify areas for improvement. Apply this principle in your daily work by dedicating time for self-reflection. Analyze your workflow, identify inefficiencies, and explore ways to streamline your process. Embrace new tools and techniques that can enhance your productivity.

Focus on Delivering Value:

Agile prioritizes tasks that have the most immediate impact. Think about "shipping software" in Agile - it's about delivering functionality that provides concrete benefits to users. Apply this principle to your daily task list. Prioritize tasks that deliver the most value first, focusing on results rather than just completing activities.

Break Down Silos and Collaborate:

Agile emphasizes collaboration and open communication within teams. Traditional ways involve working in silos where information flows slowly and communication is limited. Instead, break down barriers in your daily work. Communicate openly with colleagues, seek feedback, and work together to achieve shared goals. This encourages a more collaborative and supportive work environment.

Embrace Change with Open Arms:

The world is constantly evolving, and flexibility is the key to success. Agile's 12 principles encourage teams to welcome change and adapt their approach as needed. In your daily work, avoid being rigid. Be open to new information, adjust your plans when necessary, and embrace unforeseen opportunities. This adaptability allows you to navigate a dynamic work environment effectively.

This way, integrating core Agile values into your daily routine can unlock a more flexible and responsive way of working. You will be empowered to adapt, learn, and deliver value in a rapidly changing world, no matter what project you're tackling.

In Conclusion

The principles of agile, outlined in the Agile Manifesto, provide a flexible and iterative approach to product development. Many agile frameworks (like Kanban) emphasize collaboration, continuous feedback, and responsiveness to change. Agile methods empower teams to adapt to project managers' needs while delivering value early and often. This shift from traditional methodologies focuses on best practices based on the 12 Agile principles. Understanding these principles is crucial for anyone who wants to learn about Agile transformation, work in an Agile environment, or adopt an Agile philosophy.


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