The agile methodology has become a common method of project management. It is built on 12 principles created by a team of software developers back in 2001. Their manifesto outlined a set of key principles, which are designed to ensure companies prioritize the right things; namely: customer satisfaction, collaboration, adapting to change, and more.
The 12 agile principles can support businesses to streamline their product-development cycles and achieve better results through a flexible, reactive system.
Customers should receive the finished product sooner and provide valuable feedback to inform future releases.
Agile principles can be applied to teams of different sizes, fostering a closer working relationship while trusting individuals to get their job done. An agile development cycle consists of ‘sprints’ or ‘iterations’, which break the process down into smaller, more manageable sections.
Each sprint typically lasts from two to four weeks but may be more or less depending on the product in development.
The agile manifesto outlines the 12 agile principles — but just as vital are the 4 agile values.
What’s the relationship between agile principles and values?
Well, just as the agile methodology was built on agile principles, the principles were founded on agile values.
When the 12 principles may seem to be in conflict or don’t clearly address a particular issue, agile teams can review these values to make better decisions about their processes and methodology.
So what are these 4 foundational agile values?
1. Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools
2. Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation
3. Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation
4. Responding to Change Over Following a Plan
Many teams call themselves agile. The methodologies that resulted from the agile principles and values have been hugely successful. However, it’s easy to become over-reliant on processes and tools, following them rigidly, even when they are inappropriate for the current project, technology, or customer.
It’s at these times when a review of the foundational agile principles and values is helpful.
Let’s look at how the agile values informed the agile principles and can help teams be truly agile.
This value can be summarized as ‘People over process’.
Agile teams respond to the needs of individuals, rather than the restrictions of technology or methodology. Technology should enable users, rather than limit them.
For example, before deciding what tools or frameworks to adopt, people over process asks us to build the right team of people first, aligning them towards the end user’s goals.
Product design is then user-centric as the team decides on the tools and processes that will best achieve the agreed aims. People over process.
This value allows agile teams to adapt to changing environments. Where methodologies mandated in-person meetings to accommodate the principle of face-to-face interactions, the value of people over process allowed teams to innovate, adopting video conferencing to facilitate remote workers.
This one is all about priorities.
Shipping a working product should always come first — even over documenting features. This is especially true when features can quickly change as development progresses.
Solid documentation is always important, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of product progress.
There was a time when contracts were the last word for product development, but this resulted in a mismatch between customer needs and the end product.
The Agile methodology tries to solve this by encouraging a customer feedback loop throughout development to ensure that customer needs are front and center in the product team’s minds.
A tunnel-vision view of product development never works out.
Creating a product from scratch is an organic process, and that means things sometimes (or often) change mid-way through the process.
By not being beholden to the initial plan and allowing for course corrections, product teams can deliver a product that they’re happy with and that delights the customer. Everybody wins.
One of the main benefits of integrating the agile manifesto into product development is achieving higher product quality. Regular testing becomes a bigger part of the cycle, and products will be subject to more frequent checks to identify issues. As a result, any changes which need to be made can be handled along the way.
As development is separated into smaller sections throughout a development lifecycle, teams can tighten their focus on achieving certain goals within a limited timeframe rather than tackling the entire product in one. Sprint retrospectives allow teams to understand where previous sprints may have gone wrong and what they can do to improve upcoming ones.
Another benefit is embracing adaptability and flexibility. Product teams bring products to customers sooner and incorporate feedback into future releases. As a result, products may be adjusted and improved over time as developers react to user experiences.
With these refinements, the chances of projects being successful can be continually increased. There’s less risk of failure overall, and the cost of changing products on a big and small scale may be reduced. It’s not the same as delaying a release or causing customer frustration as massive changes are undertaken in bulk.
Agile principles empower teams with tighter control over their projects. Team members know exactly what to do in each sprint, while the greater emphasis on collaboration and communication reduces the danger of mistakes or oversights. Using automated software streamlines processes and cuts down the time wasted on avoidable manual tasks, too.
Finally, adopting agile principles in product development can achieve valuable ROI faster than traditional models. This is due to shorter development cycles, greater awareness of customer experiences, and taking steps to correct issues after release.
Here are the 12 agile principles and their examples:
1. “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”
Customer satisfaction is crucial to a product’s early and ongoing success. This principle emphasizes the importance of a continuous cycle of feedback and improvement. A minimum viable product (MVP) is released to the market and the response informs future releases. For example, a development team may release an early alpha version of their product to a small pool of customers to gain some early feedback, proving a team’s commitment to the customer experience and making customers feel valued.
2. “Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.”
Development teams react to issues and change the product to satisfy customer needs. Strategies and processes may be reconsidered to safeguard the product’s quality. For example, imagine a development team is midway through product development when a competitor releases a “killer feature” that their customers will need. Rather than ignoring it, the team should lean into the change and adapt for the sake of the customer.
3. “Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.”
Work on achieving goals on smaller scales, ultimately contributing to the product’s overall completion. Teams have tighter structures and more concrete goals to work towards. For example, a product team may deploy new features every two weeks in beta form to get real-world feedback rather than waiting for a full development cycle.
4. “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.”
Agile principles unify different departments, prioritizing regular collaboration and communication to share information/resources. For example, by aligning the product development, sales, and marketing teams, products can avoid potentially unforeseen market changes and ensure a good product-market fit.
5. “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”
Appointing the right people with the right skills for the right roles is vital to achieving success with agile principles. They should be trusted to do their job properly, without disruptive micromanagement. For example, the product owner or team leader should have complete faith in the team they build to work independently and experiment with new ideas without derailing the overall project.
6. “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”
This emphasizes the importance of ongoing collaboration and idea-sharing, with daily meetings, sprint planning, demos, and more. For example, imagine a product team working exclusively via email. The asynchronous nature of email means things will be missed or take much longer than necessary to be seen. Face-to-face solves this issue.
7. “Working software is the primary measure of progress.”
Development teams work on Minimum Viable Features instead of trying to perfect complete feature sets. Idea testing should be fast, as useful products released now are better than those released a year down the line. For example, consider a start-up with a limited budget — getting an MVP in the user’s hands will yield far more value than focusing on every “nice to have” feature from the start.
8. “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.”
It’s vital for product teams to have realistic goals and manageable expectations during sprints. This aids morale and prevents staff from becoming burned out. For example, a development team that holds regular check-ins to ensure they are on track will be more likely to stay on target and course-correct without burning out.
9. “Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.”
Products should be reviewed after each iteration to ensure real improvement is taking place. For example, a team that conducts regular code reviews will identify areas of improvement more quickly and deliver a better user experience.
10. “Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.”
Agile is about keeping processes simple and streamlining the entire cycle, and the Agile principles help keep that on track. Even the most minor distractions or unnecessary tasks can slow progress. Embrace automation tools whenever possible. For example, product teams that automate repetitive manual tasks will free up more time to work on the things that really matter. 11. “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.”
Teams should be autonomous and capable of acting faster, without having to secure permission on every little task. For example, teams with the autonomy to make critical changes without first going through multiple stakeholders will save time and deliver a better product.
12. “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”
Teams should be encouraged to reflect on their progress and make changes to the product, rather than moving ahead blindly. For example, a team that properly uses retrospectives can leverage those learnings mid-development to make trajectory changes and improve product outcomes
Almost every business will benefit from adopting the agile principles outlined above.
In particular, companies should try to integrate agile principles into their processes if they find they’re struggling to hit targets, bring products to market on time, achieve high customer satisfaction rates, or are suffering from low morale.
The emphasis on collaboration, manageable sprints, and ongoing product improvement can make a real difference.