In this blog post, we’ll explore Simplifying the Agile Manifesto by breaking it down into high-level categories. These categories will help us better understand the key concepts and principles of agile methodologies, enabling us to apply them more effectively in our daily work. I’ll say the following more then once in this post; these are my categories, I made them to help me. I caution you that you may feel differently, and I don’t want you to get the idea that the Manifesto itself is represented or supposed to be breakdown by categories, it isn’t. I just did this for me, and I’m going to share this with you.
The Agile Manifesto is great. Ok, obviously that’s something I’d say considering I’m writing about it. But, I can also say that it can be a bit long. Or at least, if you wanted to start practicing and adopting it’s ideas practically the fact that there are 16 lines of individual thoughts or concepts makes it a bit daunting. It’s certainly not as daunting as having to memorize how to run a scrum team, or knowing how to implement the SAFE methodology, but even I won’t pretend that by just reading it you’ll know what to do next on your team.
What is true though is that you should do your best to memorize the manifesto. And I’ve always found things easier to remember if I can break them down into categories. So when I started my agile journey, that’s what I did. I broke the manifesto down into 5 high level categories, and placed the principles into them based on the content of the principle. This post will be about those categories, and it’ll help serve as a way for future blogs to cover the specific categories in more detail.
If you take each of the principles on their own, each has a lot to say. In future blog posts I intend on diving deep into each principle, but for now, I have 5 categories that I believe we can divide the principles in to. And that each category on it’s own has a lot to say without having to know or remember anything about the manifesto’s individual principles themselves. That is, the categories themselves can enable us to apply the principles more effectively, even if we don’t know or remember the principles. They like the principles, principles.
The Agile Manifesto places a strong emphasis on communication, recognizing the importance of individuals and interactions over processes and tools (which itself is one of the principles). This category encompasses principles such as:
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Business people and developers working together daily throughout the project
- Face-to-face conversation as the most efficient and effective method of conveying information within a development team
While other principles could also fit in here, they fit better in other categories, but what is important to take away from this category is that talking to someone, being available to communicate your team, and not expecting that some document or ticket is ever going to be enough. That is, don’t think that just because you wrote something down, that that will be as effective a communication tool as actually telling someone something.
Delivery Speed and Iteration
Agile methodologies prioritize delivering working software quickly to satisfy customers and provide value. The principles in this category include:
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Satisfying customers through early and continuous delivery of valuable software
- Delivering working software frequently, with a preference for shorter timescales
By focusing on rapid delivery, agile teams can better respond to changing customer needs and market conditions, ensuring their products remain relevant and competitive. To achieve this, you need category number one, communication. If you don’t communicate you end up having to document, and documentation is slow. You want to be able to make small changes that you can put in front of someone so they can tell you if it works or not.
The Agile Manifesto acknowledges the importance of people in software development, emphasizing the need to create an environment where motivated individuals can thrive. The principles in this category are:
- Building projects around motivated individuals and providing the necessary support and trust
- Promoting sustainable development for sponsors, developers, and users
- Encouraging self-organizing teams to produce the best architectures, requirements, and designs
- Regularly reflecting on team effectiveness and adjusting behaviors accordingly
By empowering people and fostering a culture of trust, agile teams can improve productivity, job satisfaction, and overall project success. This category to me is one of the ones I think isn’t considered as a category in and of itself by most other breakdowns of the manifesto. But to me its very important. People make software, and people are important. As a specialist in startups where it’s considered normal to sprint and burn out team members, I can tell you that losing team members to burn out is the worst loss in productivity possible. People matter.
Quality is an essential component of the Agile Manifesto, with principles that emphasize the importance of working software as the primary measure of progress and the need for continuous attention to technical excellence and good design. By focusing on quality, agile teams can ensure their products are reliable, efficient, and maintainable, ultimately delivering more value to their customers.
BUT… there’s a catch. Quality is very important, however, in my view, it’s less important if you’re a startup than it is if you’re a company or product that has found the elusive Product Market Fit. Now, that’s not to say that these principles aren’t as important if you’re in a startup, because they are. But I think their interpretation can be different for different products or stages of a product.
It’s sort of weird because quality is important for increasing the speed of delivery. Yes, that’s right, you can have fast and good, and in fact, for it to be good, it has to be fast… you’re gonna have to stay tuned to read me explain that. But suffice it to say, that quality is very important, but what kind of quality, that’s the question. Some teams think quality is a reference to how good their code is, or how well built the architecture is or how future proof and scalable it is. But that’s not what quality here means.
You want software that doesn’t break for the customer, and there are dozens of ways of making sure that your customer doesn’t get broken software, that don’t include creating 100% test coverage or making sure your architecture can scale for a future number of users you don’t have now. So, with all that said, remember that Quality is important, but what matters most is your customers experience… and they don’t experience the code.
The Agile Manifesto encourages teams to embrace change and adapt their workflows to accommodate new requirements, even late in development. The principles in this category include:
- Responding to change over following a plan
- Welcoming changing requirements for the customer’s competitive advantage
- Pursuing simplicity by maximizing the amount of work not done
By fostering workflow agility, agile teams can quickly adapt to changing circumstances, reducing the risk of wasted effort and ensuring their products remain aligned with customer needs. And I know this is more easily said than done. People don’t like change, and managing change is hard. To put this into practice, you have to be able to create fast feedback loops so that you are prepared to show the team how changes are affecting your product.
- Delivery Speed and Iteration
- Workflow Agility
These are my categories, I’ve seen others and they may work just as well. I encourage you to create your own as well after you have a good understanding of the manifesto. Ultimately you’re the one who has to adopt, implement, and then adapt them to help your teams work better, so if you can break them down into meaningful categories that are like your own, principles principles, you’ll have an easier time of making them a part of your normal decision making process.
By examining the Agile Manifesto through the lens of these high-level categories, we gain a deeper understanding of the core principles that guide agile methodologies. By focusing on communication, delivery speed, people, quality, and workflow agility, we can better apply these principles in our own teams and projects, ultimately improving our ability to deliver value to our customers.