The Agile Principles
Part 2 of my mini-series about Agile Project Management. You already learned the Agile values. In this part, you will learn about the Agile Principles. At the end of this Agile miniseries, you will have all the tools to decide on whether to implement Agile in your projects and what method to use.
We are back in the “Hotair Ltd” offices. Before lunch, Gurufix explained the Agile values to Projectix who desperately needed a break. And now, after a light lunch and some cups of coffee they’re both back in Gurufix’ office to tackle the Agile Principles.
Gurufix, while sitting down: “Projectix, do you mind if I check-in with you, whether you have well digested the first part?”
Projectix: “Sure. This morning we have discussed the Agile Values and their strong and weak points. Just to name the values:
- Individuals and interactions are more important than processes and tools
- Working software is more important than comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration is more important than contract negotiation
- Responding to change is more important than following a plan
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Did I miss any major point?”
Gurufix: “No, you pretty much got it. Now let’s dive into the Agile Principles. They are as interesting as the values and there are even more of them.
What are the Agile principles?
In addition to the values we discussed previously the manifesto contains 12 principles and methods who stand for Agile project management. And here is my industry neutral translation into today’s world:
- Keep the customer happy by delivering valuable products and services continuously and as early as possible.
- Implement changes even late in the development, if the customer gains a competitive advantage from these.
- Deliver working versions of products and services in regular preferably short fractions of time.
- Business people and developers should work together intensively on a daily basis.
- Trust the motivated project team and build the project around them. Create an environment where these people can be as efficient as possible.
- Information is passed on preferably face-to-face.
- The primary measure of progress are working aka usable products, prototypes and services.
- All stakeholders accept and maintain a constant working speed and avoid peaks of overload. This is the basis for a sustainable development.
- Continuous attention is given to excellence and good design.
- Simplicity or the art of not doing unnecessary work and avoiding waste is essential (KISS-principle).
- The team does organise itself in planning and execution.
- The team reflects itself about opportunities to improve its behaviour in order to maximise efficiency. Which is a kind of self-directed continuous improvement process.
Projectix: „Wow, that’s even more impressive than the values!“
The advantages and dangers of the Agile principles
Gurufix: “That’s why I paid you a lunch… for you have enough energy to stay the course when we go through all 12… (grins)
I think we should use the same approach as with the values and go through the principles one by one. Once again, it’s not black and white, and many of the principles have a positive aspect which should also be used in classical waterfall style project management approaches. “
Keep the customer happy by delivering valuable products and services continuously and as early as possible.
Gurufix: “I fully agree with this one. As soon as you have something to show you should show it to your customer and get his feedback. This is the only way to be sure that you run in the right direction. Anything else is just reading the tea leaves and not helpful.
Nonetheless, there is one thing to keep in mind. You should brief your customer beforehand what to look at and what should be ignored. If you skip this step you can be sure that he might focus on a problem which is not yet part of your development and is criticising this one and forgets to check the important things.”
Implement changes even late in the development, if the customer gains a competitive advantage from these
Gurufix: “From my point of view, this is a really dumb idea. It leads directly to Gold-Plating and exploding project cost and timing!“
Projectix: „What is Gold-Plating?“
Gurufix: „…it means, add features to your project which are not in the project order. Sort of goldening the project even though this has not been requested or ordered in the first place.
You need to explain to your customer the implications of any modification. In most cases, modifying anything in a late stage of a project means that the delivery of the product or service will be delayed and probably more expensive. And ‘No product now’ equals … ‘No sales now’! I don’t think that ‘no sales’ rimes with competitive advantage. For an entrepreneur who cannot cover months and months of costs without selling anything this could be a death sentence.“
Projectix: „That means finish the product first and get it out on the market and then continue to optimise and finalise this product.”
Gurufix: „Exactly. In marketing, you call this MMP (Minimum Marketable Product), which is not only a relevant expression for products, but also for services. The advantage is that you can stress test your service or product with real customers in the real world and gain experience that you will then be able to inject into your optimisation project. “
Projectix: „Can you give me an example?“
Gurufix: „The Berlin Airport in Germany!
It should have been opened to the traffic in October 2011. Due to sloppiness, but also because the project management accepted a change request late in the building phase, which meant to nearly double the capacity, everything has been delayed by years. The higher passenger capacity might be a competitive advantage for the customer Berlin, but the costs and the timeline have exploded. In fact, some of the equipment which has been installed during the initial project is already outdated by now and must be replaced without having worked a single day. And there is still no feedback on the real-life operation of this airport. By the way, the opening is now planned for October 2020.“
Deliver working versions of products and services in regular preferably short fractions of time.
Projectix: „Sounds familiar. Keep the customer in the loop and collect his feedback.“
Gurufix nods in agreement.
Business people and developers should work together intensively on a daily basis.
Projectix: „That sounds logical. If a cross functional team including people who know the customer works together in a productive way, many errors and delays can be avoided.“
Gurufix: „That’s a nice little dream, isn’t it?“(grins)
Trust the motivated project team and build the project around them. Create an environment where these people can be as efficient as possible.
Gurufix: „That one sounds logical and it is absolutely true. The sad thing is that managers often forget this: If I want my team to show high-performance I need to trust them, and I need to set the stage for success. You cannot micromanage a team to performance!“
Projectix: „Sure enough, if my team has the impression that they could perform much better if I would loosen the breaks and remove some obstacles they will never give their very best until I actually do it. “
Information is passed on preferably face-to-face.
Gurufix: „Sure a face to face discussion is the best way to pass on information, especially if you are discussing critical issues. But if your team is scattered all over the globe this is just not feasible.
As software development projects were one of the first that started being done by teams located around the globe in order to develop 24/7 for maximum development speed I have no clue how this point made its way into a manifesto written by software guys.“
Projectix: „I believe it is important to put all agreements in writing, especially with virtual teams. This avoids misunderstandings about who does what, when and how. Too often stuff that has been agreed upon just does not happen because it has simply fallen into oblivion in the heat of the action.“
The primary measure of progress is working aka usable products, prototypes and services.
Gurufix: „Agreed, at least to some degree. If you don’t produce tangible results you could as well not work at all. But sometimes, you also have to document and test, which from my point of view is also very important and does not contribute to functionality in the narrower sense.”
All stakeholders accept and maintain a constant working speed and avoid peaks of overload. This is the basis for a sustainable development.
Gurufix: „I agree 100% with this one. You cannot maintain your team at overspeed over longer periods of time and still expect good results. Overspeed always leads to errors. Following my experience, you will get the best results in your project if you maintain a constant rhythm that everybody can cope with well. “
Continuous attention is given to excellence and good design.
Gurufix: „Absolutely. Within the grade that you have chosen for your product and service you should always aim to fulfil the requirements as good as you possibly can.“
Gurufix: „I think you have already experienced what I mean. If you compare a Mc Donald’s restaurant to a top-notch star decorated restaurant, they do not have the same grade. So, excellence does mean completely different things. What is considered excellent in one place is completely unacceptable in the other. By the way, this is true in both ways. If you get to wait 30 minutes for your meal in an haute cuisine restaurant, this is perfectly acceptable, as everything is freshly made. If people would have to wait such a long time at Mc Donald’s they would go nuts. And would be right.“
Simplicity or the art of not doing unnecessary work and avoiding waste is essential (KISS-principle).
Gurufix: „I love this one. The art of not doing unnecessary work. This is so important. If everybody would only do what is necessary, everybody would have plenty of time and nobody would be overwhelmed. On top of this, doing the really necessary things the KISS way: ‚Keep it short and simple‘. Complicating things, everybody can do this. It’s the speciality of consultants, but simplicity is a real art. Keeping things simple makes understanding easy and leads to less errors and that is sooo important. “
The team does organise itself in planning and execution.
Gurufix: „Hmm. This might be correct if we are talking about methods like Scrum. There is no project manager but only product owners who know what the customer wants and a Scrum Master who facilitates the process and is responsible for getting problems with the processes or the environment out of the way. And the product owner keeps the backlog. So, within the boundaries of the backlog and the feedback from the product owner, the team does indeed organise its work.
If we are talking more classical project management, the project manager who will be held responsible by the customer and the general management should have a say. This does not mean that the project team has nothing to say in the planning and organising, but it is not the only one to decide. And that also holds true if as an entrepreneur the project manager and the general manager is the same person.”
The team reflects itself about opportunities to improve its behaviour in order to maximise efficiency. Which is a kind of self-directed continuous improvement process.
Gurufix: „In Scrum, there is a meeting, the sprint retrospective, where the team reflects on what has worked well in the last sprint and what could be better. It’s not about the product they are working on, but just about the process. From this meeting, the team derives its own process improvement program.”
Projectix: That is an interesting approach who would also be great in the classical project management. That is continuous improvement live. Why wait until the end of the project and the dreadful lessons learned, which then end up in oblivion, when you can implement the improvements on the fly. I also believe that the team would be much more open to talk about problems if the boss is not around. I just need to find out how to collect the ideas to put them into action.“
Gurufix: „Yeah, I think that would be a great approach. And that was also the last of our Agile principles.
Which of them are the ones that you will put into action?“
Projectix: „I don’t know yet. A little bit of all of them I guess. Being agile seems not such a bad idea to some extent. I think in our young company it is quite useful not to try to plan everything through, even when you know that you don’t know.“
Gurufix: “Take your time to digest all this. There’s no hurry with that. I guess, I’ll soon have the honour of Bigboss questioning me around all this Agile thing, too. I’ll try to get him back on earth and clean out from these fluffy dynamic consultant ideas.”
* * * to be continued * * *
Now its your turn!
I think the agile approach is very valuable for entrepreneurs, start-up’s and small business owners, as more often than not, you are confronted with new topics and you learn as you go. So, what is the use of trying to spend weeks planning, just to find out that you need to change everything once you enter your learning curve.
Nonetheless, I believe you should handle the approach with care because if you do not reflect on your agile methodology you might end up chasing the next shiny object instead of moving continuously towards your goal.
And by the way, if you now jump on Google to find out about Scrum, which is one of the most renowned Agile methods, but only suitable for a certain team size and you are a solopreneur, then don’t panic. Agile is not only Scrum and in my following blog posts, you will learn how you can tune your approach to be as Agile as is best for you. And by the way, this works with nearly any team size, from 1 to many.
Don’t miss out on the next article of this series! The next one is especially dedicated to entrepreneurs! I will explain how to know how much Agile you need, which methods exist, and which one will be the most suitable for you. Subscribe to our newsletter and I will send all this into your inbox. Subscribe now! I promise, your email address is safe and you can opt out any time.
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Now I would like to know, do you already use Agile methods in your business and which ones? Just put it into the comments. Any questions? Just ask and I’ll be happy to respond.