The 12 Agile principles every project manager should know
Agile marketing, Agile project management, Agile software development — Agile is everywhere.
But while most businesses these days claim to be “agile”, many aren’t even aware of what Agile methodology is, what it stands for, and how it can help their businesses run more efficiently and scale.
To make your business truly Agile, you need to go back to the basics — in this case, the 12 Agile principles that started it all.
This article will help you learn all about Agile principles, why they matter, and how you can implement them in your projects and workflows.
Why are Agile principles important?
Agile principles are a core part of the Agile Manifesto — a document first published in 2001 to help software companies develop and get products to market faster.
But Agile principles offer more than just a framework for software developers.
They encourage a mindset that helps project managers in any field focus on continuous learning, change, and collaboration.
Research shows that businesses who adopt Agile experience:
- Improved ability to manage change (70%)
- Faster project deliveries (60%)
- Improved team morale (59%)
- Increased team productivity (58%)
- Better quality outcomes (46%)
- Lower project costs (26%)
What are the 12 Agile principles?
Before you start rallying your team into adopting Agile, you need to understand the 12 core principles that form its backbone.
1. Satisfy the customer
Agile philosophy focuses on approaching product design from the perspective of the customer rather than following the “we know what’s best” model.
As an Agile team, your #1 priority should always be a satisfied customer. As the saying goes, “the customer is always right,” even when they aren’t.
2. Don’t be afraid of change
A crucial part of Agile is the ability to harness change and switch direction at any point in time if it helps your customer’s competitive advantage.
If you’re in the final stretch and there’s suddenly a request for a new feature added, what do you do? Traditional methods would argue that it’s a hard no — it’s too late in the game to go back to the drawing board. The Agile approach urges you to say yes.
3. Deliver working versions frequently
The Agile mindset focuses on “chunking down” projects into smaller, individual portions or sprints, and delivering a functioning version of the end product at the end of each sprint.
The average sprint length is 2.4 weeks, and the average length of an entire Scrum project (type of Agile project) is only 11.6 weeks. This translates to products being delivered much earlier and more frequently than in traditional methodologies.
4. Bring business people and “techies” together
The Agile method promotes collaboration between the client, the customer-facing “business people” (i.e., your sales and marketing teams), and the technical gurus who are actually building the solution.
If the client asks sales for something and then sales sends the request to production and walks away, you’re playing a dangerous game of telephone.
Having everyone plugged in throughout the whole process ensures the customer doesn’t end up with a rope when they asked for a swing.
General Mills is able to deliver world-class customer experiences by investing in “always on teams.”
As Chris Campbell (Director of Marketing and Sales Solutions) says, “Our “always on teams” are comprised of marketing, agency, and tech resources that work as one team to deliver the consumer the best experience possible.”
For more on this subject, check out our article on cross-functional collaboration.
5. Motivate, trust, and support your team
Agile businesses build projects around motivated teams. Agile leaders know that with the right environment, support, and trust, people will do their best work and produce quality outcomes.
A Bain survey reported that out of 1,300 global executives, the majority agreed with the statement: “Today’s business leaders must trust and empower people, not command and control them.”
Only 5% disagreed.
6. Engage in face-to-face conversation
In Agile, frequent face-to-face conversations (video conferencing for virtual teams) are essential between team members.
When you can see facial expressions and body language there’s less chance for misunderstandings. Plus more information can be conveyed faster than via email or other written methods.
7. Measure progress with working versions of the final product
Agile is built around delivering progressively more detailed or advanced versions of the product until you hit the final end deliverable that checks all the requirements boxes.
Each delivered version has to stand on its own. You can deliver a car that doesn’t have a stereo system yet. But you can’t deliver only the front end of a car.
8. Encourage sustainable development
An Agile team should keep a constant, sustainable pace throughout the project. It’s about setting a pace your team can keep up indefinitely rather than having a 60-hour work week one week and 20 hours the next.
Jocelyn Pascual from Skin Perfect Marketing explains how they plan events with the help of Agile boards. By prioritizing tasks and dividing them into stages, they’re able to avoid burning the team out with last minute panic and stress.
9. Pay attention to technical excellence and good design
Traditional PM methods, such as Waterfall, take a sequential approach to projects with testing near the very end. So, if you discover there’s a problem, it could take forever to find the root cause — And even longer to go back and fix it.Agile emphasizes continuous testing and monitoring so you can spot and fix issues early. Image scrolling through 100 lines of code every two weeks compared to reviewing 10,000 lines of code for the first time at the end of the project.
10. Keep it simple
In an Agile process, simplicity is about three things:
- Minimizing work that doesn’t add value.
- Going with the simplest design and adding on features later.
- Looking for ways to do more with less.
A great example of this is Uber’s beta version (then ‘UberCab’) that launched back in 2010. The app launched with a simplified interface and only operated in one city, San Francisco.
Over the years, Uber slowly added features based on customer requirements, such as live-tracking, automatic credit card payments, and fare estimates.
11. Use self-organizing teams
Managers shouldn’t need to micromanage a project team — They’ve got enough to do and it’s not good for employees. Nearly half (49%) of remote workers being micromanaged are dealing with work-related anxiety. Only 7% of those not being micromanaged have the same struggle.
Agile teams need to be able to make decisions. They need to organize and manage work on their own. These teams are happier, more productive, faster, and more reliable.
12. Regularly reflect and review
Most agile frameworks include a retrospective at the end of each phase or sprint. Retrospectives are about reviewing what went well and what didn’t, and talking about how you can improve going forward.
This focus on continuous improvement helps your team stay adaptable, and look for ways to improve their processes and work. It’s the mindset that allows you to achieve other principles like finding simpler ways to do things and not being afraid of change.
How to implement Agile principles in your workflow
Now that you know what principles to follow, the question becomes “how” to follow them.
1. Use Scrum boards to plan work
Scrum breaks a project down into multiple short Sprints, each ending in a concrete deliverable and retrospective. This hits principles #3, #7, #9, and #12.
At monday.com we use 2-week sprints to help our Scrum team work in short, productive bursts, but you can set up sprints to be 1–4 weeks in length — Whatever suits your project and team best.
You can use this Sprint Planning template to map out your next Agile project.
2. Support meetings with dashboards
We like to bring up a dashboard at each of our team meetings (whether the daily Scrum or the retrospective.) A dashboard view can help keep the team focused, make sure everyone is on the same page, and highlight the key metrics you need to discuss.
By bringing everyone together (virtually or in person) as a team and focusing on what needs to be done to satisfy the customer, you can achieve principles #1, #4, #5, #6, and #11.
This high-level project plan template is a great visual for quickly reviewing together what’s on track, what needs attention, and what’s coming down the pipe.
3. Adopt flexible workflows
Estimates aren’t always accurate and priorities change. Using a work management platform helps your team pivot to keep up with client needs.
When a task suddenly tasks 2 days instead of 1, or a low-priority activity skyrockets to top-priority you need to be able to adjust, without overwhelming your team.
This team task tracker template can help you rearrange and reassign work with a couple clicks of your mouse — meeting principles #2, #8, and #10.
Agile principles guide project managers and teams to work more efficiently by focusing on communication, collaboration, and change.
Browse our customizable project templates to better organize your projects and embrace the Agile way of working.