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What are agile values?


Definition of agile values

The agile values are the four suggested ways of working, outlined in the Agile Manifesto. As is the ethos of agile, the values focus on being adaptable and collaborative, prioritizing people over processes and using “working software” to get products market-ready as quickly as possible.

Whilst the Agile Alliance wrote up their manifesto in 2001, the agile values still hold true for development teams today. Indeed, as the agile approach continues to gather momentum — used by teams and departments across many organizations — what the agile values teach us is of even greater importance than it was twenty years ago.

Crucially, though, it’s worth noting that the agile values are not a methodology, framework or set of rules in themselves. Instead, the Agile Manifesto should be seen as a collection of beliefs, from which teams can learn new and improved ways of working.

The four agile values in detail

The four core values of the Agile Alliance are:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

The manifesto puts people front and center. In agile, people are the most important resource for any team. 

Sure, you can do as much research and prep as you like. You can even invest in the most up-to-date technology. But, ultimately, the success or failure of your project relies on the people involved.

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That’s why individuals and interactions deserve great attention and investment in agile. They truly are the key to delivering in your product or company vision.

Put simply: a solid team of inspired, collaborative individuals is infinitely more valuable than any process or tool they might use. 

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Before the Agile Manifesto, product teams felt obliged to complete dense pages of documentation before developers could even write the first line of code.

Now, the agile values prioritize getting software to the customer as quickly as possible — getting direct feedback from users as early on in the process as you can. 

This is not to say that solid documentation isn’t important. It is! But this agile value aims to minimize delays caused by burdensome documents, smoothing the path for software release from start to finish.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

As we saw above: in agile, people are key to success. 

So the third of the agile values highlights the specific importance of working closely with customers during the development process. This could mean getting feedback and criticism directly from the user. Co-creating new products based on research insights. Or conducting user experience research to deep-dive into users’ wants and needs.

Where traditional product development processes favored sticking to negotiated contracts with a list of deliverables, the agile philosophy builds user feedback into the development process, and allows for constant collaboration. 

The result? Greater adaptability and a better chance of delivering the most useful, engaging and commercially successful product to market.

Responding to change over following a plan

Change can cost time and money. So, in the past, development processes did their best to avoid it. Plans were designed to be detailed, to cover every eventuality, and to act as a blueprint for action.

The agile view is different.

According to the Agile Manifesto, change actually adds value in the long term. As such, change should be welcomed and embraced.

But there’s a ‘right’ way to do it, if you want to be agile.

Change doesn’t add value if decision-making is slow. Instead, organizations need to be quick to react and maintain short iteration cycles. This way, change can be a constant part of the development process — priorities can be flexed, new features or updates can be added.

Being the fourth of the agile values, this argues that the frequent reviewing and reworking of a plan is a good thing. Doing so transforms the project plan from a static map into a dynamic strategy. 

If changing direction or priority makes tactical sense, the agile value encourages you to go for it! And not to get stuck going in a direction that no longer makes sense.

What are the pros and cons of using agile values?

When applied well, the agile values make a team more flexible and more adaptable to change. In turn, makes opportunities easier to spot and — even better — to respond to. If something changes in the marketplace, an agile organization is better placed to react and flex its product offering to suit the new environment.

What’s more: agile teams can deal with development issues more effectively, so customers get their problems solved faster.

On the flip-side, the agile values can be open to misinterpretation.

Lack of understanding can lead to teams believing they are ‘agile, when in reality they’ve simply ditched a bunch of traditional practices and replaced them with scrappy behavior. For example, you aren’t being ‘flexible’ if you simply change your priorities on a whim. A shift in focus should always have strategic reasoning behind it.

Will the agile values add value for your team?

Remember: the agile values are not rules

They aren’t a strict methodology or process, or a specific way of developing products or software. 

What they are is a way of thinking, a set of values and beliefs that help encourage creativity, make product and software development more effective and reactive, and allow teams to respond faster and more directly to what their customers actually need and want.

As such, most development teams can benefit from adopting an agile mentality. Of course, there are criticisms (mostly that the Values don’t live up to the hype), and situations where using agile values don’t work.

But as long as you don’t see them as set in stone, the agile values can be hugely valuable to nearly every team.

General FAQ

What role does the roadmap play in agile?
In agile, the roadmap is a dynamic document that is constantly being updated and revisited. One of the four values of agile is responding to change over following a strict plan so the roadmap is not a static document but a dynamic strategy.
Are agile values rules?
The agile values are not rules but a mindset. These values are up to interpretation and can be changed to work with your company culture, structure, and values.

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