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Methodologies & Frameworks
12 Important Agile Principles, Explained With Simple Examples

Agile teams strive for excellence and agility, but how can you know if you're really taking advantage of both?

The answer lies in understanding the core agile principles—there are 12 of them. Knowing these important guiding principles is essential to achieving maximum efficiency as an agile team. 

In this article, I will cover what the Agile Manifesto is, discuss the 12 agile principles with brief explanations as well as examples, and compare agile principles to agile values.

So, let’s dive into this concept—because when it comes to practicing agile, knowledge is power!

I’ll cover:

What Is The Agile Manifesto? 

It’s no secret that existing processes for software development were complex, not very responsive, and heavily focused on documentation. 

That’s why a group of 17 developers got together in 2001 to create the Manifesto for Agile Software Development—also known as the Agile Manifesto—with the goal of restoring credibility to the word methodology. Let’s take a look at what the manifesto is all about! 

One of the main goals of the manifesto is to “value individuals and interactions over processes and tools”, meaning that people and human interactions should be prioritized instead of following rigid processes or using traditional tools. 

The manifesto also stresses that working software is the highest priority over comprehensive documentation, since it allows teams to make changes quickly when needed. 

Furthermore, customer collaboration is key in agile software development, which means that customers should be actively involved throughout the entire process so that they can provide feedback and direction as needed. 

Finally, responding to change is critical, rather than following a specific plan, agile teams should be able to adapt quickly when changes arise. 

The manifesto also has 4 core values, which are meant to guide how agile teams approach their work: 

  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

Simply put, the Agile Manifesto illuminates the path to success through its four core values. These tenets place the spotlight on the importance of human ingenuity, favoring individuals and interactions above the rigidity of processes and tools.

Recognizing the primacy of tangible results, the manifesto prioritizes working software over heaps of meticulous documentation. 

Agile wisdom also embraces adaptability, with teams fostering customer collaboration and placing less emphasis on ironclad contract negotiation.

In a dynamic landscape where change is as constant as the ticking of a clock, agile teams demonstrate their cleverness by championing responsiveness over blindly following a predetermined plan. 

Guided by these core values, agile teams navigate the ever-shifting tides of the software world with their compasses set in the right direction.

In addition, there are 12 principles associated with the agile framework, which serve as further guidance for how agile teams should work. All of these principles emphasize efficiency while still allowing for flexibility when needed. 

What Are The 12 Agile Principles?

Agile teams are rapidly changing the way businesses function, but at their core is a set of well-defined principles that stand strong in the face of innovation and disruption.

But what exactly ARE those twelve agile principles? If you're ready to take your team's agility to the next level, I've got everything you need right here: 

1. Satisfying customers through early & continuous delivery of valuable work

Unlike waterfall, the traditional project management methodology, this concept emphasizes delivering work as quickly as possible in order to satisfy customer needs and expectations.

By providing value regularly and early, the end-user is kept engaged and satisfied with the product or service being delivered. 

In real life, this could be achieved through the continuous delivery of valuable software by a software development team that applies Scrum and therefore, releases frequent updates to its software or a marketing team that continually provides content updates to keep its customers informed.

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2. Breaking big work down into smaller tasks for rapid completion

The goal is to break down a large project, goal, backlog, or task into smaller chunks that can be completed more quickly. This allows teams to work in an iterative way and focus on manageable tasks and make progress more rapidly. 

For example, when writing a book, an author can break down their chapters into smaller sections that can be completed within a certain timeframe; or when launching a website, developers can divide the project into smaller sprints such as the different design and coding tasks.

3. The best architectures and work emerges from teams that self-organize

This concept suggests that successful results come from allowing teams to organize and structure themselves in order to realize their goals. 

A self-organized team is one in which members decide how best to use their skills and talents in order to achieve the desired outcome. In our distributed world this doesn’t require a face-to-face conversation anymore, just the accessibility of a real-time communication channel for the development team.

An example of this could be seen in an agile software development team, where members collaborate on tasks based on their individual strengths and interests in order to build sophisticated software applications.

4. Providing individuals with the environment & support to do the job

This refers to the importance of providing an environment where motivated individuals have freedom and flexibility while still having access to the resources they need.

It also involves trusting those individuals with getting their job done without micromanaging them by setting success metrics or strict guidelines for their development processes. 

For instance, a manager may provide employees with specific goals but allow them freedom in choosing how best to reach these goals, or a teacher may give students an assignment but trust them with taking ownership of the project and completing it independently.

5. Creating agile processes that promote sustainable efforts

This involves creating systems that allow teams and organizations to maintain sustainable development over time, instead of experiencing burnout from working too hard for long periods of time without rest or breaks.

Examples of this are: 

  • introducing flexible working hours, so employees don't feel overworked
  • setting clear milestones for projects, so progress can be monitored easily
  • incorporating regular feedback loops, so improvements can be made quickly
  • or ensuring reasonable workloads are assigned according to each person's capabilities

6. Maintaining a constant pace for completed work

This suggests that teams should strive for steadiness when completing work by maintaining consistent progress at an even pace, rather than overworking for short periods followed by long lulls in productivity due to fatigue or other issues. 

Examples of applying this principle include implementing processes like 

  • Kanban boards, which help teams visualize their workflow better
  • scheduling regular meetings periodically throughout the project timeline
  • breaking big tasks into smaller subtasks
  • planning ahead regarding possible obstacles that might slow down progress
  • or encouraging collaboration between team members by assigning roles according to everyone’s strengths and weaknesses

7. Welcome changing requirements, even late in a project

A project should be adaptable to changing requirements, regardless of the stage it is in. This means that the team should be ready and willing to update their plans, designs, and goals according to the evolving needs of the project. 

An example in real-life could involve a software development project where user feedback received during the beta testing phase results in the implementation of new features or the improvement of existing ones to better meet user expectations.

8. Assembling the project team & business owners on a daily basis

To ensure better communication and alignment within the project, team members and the product owner should meet daily to discuss progress, share updates, and solve issues. 

An example would be utilizing daily stand-up meetings in a product design project, where team members discuss their tasks for the day, any roadblocks they're facing, and how they're planning to overcome them.

9. Reflecting on success at regular intervals, adapting & tweaking behavior

The team should regularly reflect on their work processes and performance to identify areas for growth and improvement. This involves adapting and optimizing their behavior and methods as needed. 

For instance, in a marketing campaign project, the team regularly reviews the performance of their social media ads during a particular period, then modifies their messaging, targeting, or budget allocation to increase their conversion rate.

10. Measuring progress by the amount of completed work

The primary measure of progress for a project should be based on the amount of work that has been accomplished rather than time spent. This ensures that the focus remains on delivering value and results, rather than the mere passage of time.

An example would be evaluating construction project progress by the number of completed milestones, such as completing the foundation, framework, and installing roof trusses, instead of simply tracking the number of weeks since the project started.

11. Continually seeking excellence

A team should constantly strive for excellence in both their work output and their team dynamics. This involves setting high standards for project deliverables and fostering a culture of continuous improvement within the team. 

For example, in a customer support team, the pursuit of excellence might involve providing in-depth training to staff, developing comprehensive support materials, and closely monitoring feedback to ensure that customers receive the best possible service.

12. Harnessing change for your or the customer’s competitive advantage

Project teams should view change as an opportunity to gain a competitive edge. By adapting more quickly and effectively to shifting requirements, cross-functional teams can outperform their competitors and better serve their stakeholders. 

An agile approach in real life would be the rapid adaptation of restaurants and food delivery services during the COVID-19 pandemic. By quickly pivoting to offer online ordering, contactless delivery and curbside pickup options, these businesses were able to maintain or even increase their customer base despite lockdown restrictions.

Agile Principles vs Agile Values

Agile principles and values are two of the most important concepts in agile project management. The two terms sound similar and often get confused, but they mean very different things. To understand why these two concepts are so important, let’s take a look at what each one means.

Agile Principles

At their core, agile principles are guidelines that help you manage your projects efficiently and effectively. They give you a set of rules to follow when it comes to how you should approach different tasks and decisions. 

These principles include such topics as customer collaboration, adaptive planning, continuous improvement, and more. By following these principles, teams can ensure that their projects are completed with utmost efficiency and effectiveness.

Agile Values

Unlike principles that guide how you should approach your work, agile values provide a framework for the mindset that teams should adopt when working on an agile project.

These values include such topics as communication, openness, trust, respect for people’s skills and expertise, commitment to quality results over the speed of delivery, focus on customer satisfaction above all else, and more. 

By focusing on these values while working together as a team, members can ensure that they stay focused on the goal at hand while staying motivated throughout the process.

To sum it up, agile principles and values are both essential components of any successful agile project. Principles provide the framework for how teams should approach their work, while values provide the mindset needed to stay focused on the goal at hand while remaining motivated throughout the process. 

By understanding both of these concepts fully and applying them to your team processes effectively, you can ensure that your projects will be completed successfully every time!

Over To You

Agile software development has become incredibly popular since its inception in 2001 because it enables teams to produce high-quality products quickly without sacrificing accuracy or customer satisfaction. 

By following the values and principles outlined in the Agile Manifesto—particularly those regarding customer collaboration, responding to change, delivering working products frequently—agile teams will have everything they need for successful product development! 

These twelve principles inform specific agile methodologies, such as Kanban, Scrum, and others. Read about the differences between Kanban and Scrum here.

To stay updated on all things agile and learn how your teams can be more efficient, don’t forget to subscribe to The Digital Project Manager newsletter to ensure that you remain informed at each step along the way. 

By Mandy Schmitz

Mandy Schmitz is a freelance consultant and project management expert with 10+ years of experience working internationally for big brands in fintech, consumer goods, and more.

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