The Agile Manifesto, or the importance of responding to change with flexibility

The Agile Manifesto, or the importance of responding to change with flexibility

The Agile Manifesto was originally a proclamation about value-adding collaboration in software development. Today, almost 20 years on, companies around the world are aligning themselves with the timeless ideals it embodies. Check out its four core values and seize the opportunity to cast a critical eye over your own priorities.

Four core values, twelve principles – the Agile Manifesto was written in 2001 by a group of 17 coaches, consultants and developers. It was conceived as the basis for value-adding collaboration in software development. Now, almost 20 years later, companies around the world from a whole host of different sectors are pursuing the ideas it formulated at the turn of the Millennium. In times of great uncertainty, an agile attitude and the ability to respond to change with flexibility have become essential qualities for many.

The four core values

Looking at the four core values of the Agile Manifesto can help companies really come to understand their own strategy and, if necessary, adjust it so they can stay competitive in today’s very volatile environment.

The original text of the "Agile Manifesto" is as follows:
“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

But how are these core values relevant to other sectors outside the IT industry? After all, the everyday working life of apprentices and production workers, to name just two examples, is pretty far removed from that of IT specialists.

Core value 1: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”

It goes without saying that processes and tools are only as good as the people who use them – it’s not the other way around. That’s why, although they can support collaboration between teams, they can never replace face-to-face discussions and one-on-one communication. However, that doesn’t mean staff can get by without any process expertise – quite the opposite, in fact. If we want to use our tools to maximize value creation, then it’s essential we understand their functions and benefits in intricate detail. All the same, when it comes to gray areas, the needs of users must take precedence over rigid rules.

Consider this:

  • Which processes and tools in your organization are fixed?
  • Do they actually help all staff perform to the best of their ability?

Core value 2: “Working software over comprehensive documentation”

Documentation has its place and its purpose – this core value doesn’t dispute that. The focus is more on avoiding duplication and being aware that mountains of documentation also mean mountains of work – for the authors and readers alike. Knowledge needs to be anchored in everyday working life in a simple, convenient way. Good documentation won’t just help with that, it will also ensure that high-value, working (!) products can be delivered ahead of time.

Consider this:

  • Does knowledge management in your organization help you create valuable products?
  • Do you sometimes get the impression that documentation is being drawn up simply for the sake of it? Why is that?

Core value 3: “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation”

Watching, listening, questioning – continuous cooperation with customers is paramount for agile teams. Under a classic approach, product development starts with contract negotiations and ends when the product is signed off. Between those two stages there can often be little or no communication between the product developer and customer. By contrast, agile projects will integrate customers into the development process right from the start. One-to-one communication is far more important than the contract, which ultimately is only designed to cover all eventualities.

Consider this:

  • How well do you know your customers’ needs?
  • What methods do you use to identify early on whether your customers’ circumstances and their needs have changed?

Core value 4: “Responding to change over following a plan”

Part of an agile culture is being prepared to learn and being able to react to new circumstances with flexibility. Responding to changes is therefore more important than sticking to a plan. What that doesn’t mean, however, is that agile teams work without a plan or even objective. They are very focused on one goal in particular – the one that promises the most added value. All the same, they continuously scrutinize their methods and results so they can learn from their experience.

Consider this:

  • How do you manage to adapt to new realities and yet still move closer to your vision?
  • Does the whole team understand, share and pursue this vision?

Check and adapt

While you’ve been reading this, have you found yourself wondering how you can transfer these core values to the reality of your day-to-day working life? Perhaps one of the issues raised caught you unawares and left you thinking about how your own company is organized. This is just the first step. If you genuinely want to change something, you have to involve your colleagues and customers, in addition to considering their different needs. Once you’ve come to a decision, you also need to be brave enough to embrace the agile approach in full – which means being prepared to reexamine your conclusions, and potentially adjust them.