Agile Values: You Need the Whole Set

“Agile doesn’t work” pitfall #2: Rather than take the entire set, companies approach them piecemeal and therefore don’t achieve the potential.

In the article Don’t Write Agile off Just Yet I mentioned three pitfalls that make it seem like Agile doesn’t work. This article takes a closer look at the second pitfall.

First, a reminder of the four Agile values: putting people first, adaptation, frequent value delivery, and collaboration between customers and doers.

As I wrote in the original article, all are desirable in today’s business landscape. The Agile approach is a big deal because these specific four are a mutually amplifying set.

For example:

  • A company may truly aspire to listen to customers, so it invites user feedback in its app and runs A/B tests. But if it’s low on adaptation and frequent value delivery — manifested in making big commitments and releases — then it only really listens to the customers every few months. Customers learn that providing feedback isn’t very useful.
  • Many managers interpret putting people first as servant leadership, team empowerment and consensus, and flexibility with the process. However, without an additional focus on customer collaboration and frequent value delivery, that can turn into a team free-for-all, with endless debates that don’t take customer realities into account.
  • Consider frequent value delivery. Almost every prod dev team I know makes a powerful yet hidden assumption: our backlog is prioritized, so every sprint is a net value-add. That’s not always how things turn out, though. If they also care for adaptation and putting people first, they experiment with features and/or test how they actually land with users, and adapt their plans accordingly.

Being Agile means working in a way that optimizes for all four values at the same time.

When clients ask me to help them upgrade their Agile ways of working, I usually start by seeing what values their practices actually optimize for. Often, their de-facto values are only a subset of the Agile values and not the result of a deliberate, strategic management choice. Helping them realize the missed opportunity in espousing the whole Agile package usually makes for a powerful intervention.

(For a deeper look at the third pitfall, read Agile Is a System Thing.)


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