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The 4 Agile values your team should embrace 9 min read
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You’ve just missed your second deadline this week.

And it’s not just you.

There’s a product launch coming up, but everyone is so behind that you don’t know if there will be anything to ship.

Your manager called a 2-hour meeting to figure out why you were so far behind schedule.

But all you learned was that 3 of your teammates have been working on the exact same problem without telling each other.

At this rate, by the time you finally get your product to market, someone will have already cloned it.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Situations like the ones above are exactly what the Agile methodology was designed to fight against.

But Agile’s not very effective if you blindly pick a framework and try to follow the steps without first buying into the principles and values behind it.

In this article, you’ll find a primer on the fundamental Agile values and learn how they can help you fix even the most aggravating problems on your team.

What are the 4 key Agile values?

Agile project management focuses on 4 values. Together, these values drive every decision made under the Agile framework. They are:

  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.

Common sense, right?

Not as much as you’d think.

Put it this way: when a company tells you “Our customers come first!”, how often do you really believe them?

It’s an easy thing to say, but embodying it and putting it into daily practice are much more complicated.

Do some digging, and you’ll find that many organizations that claim to follow Scrum values still have rigid structures in place, oriented around a specific set of tools. (Which contradicts at least 2 of these 4 values, as you’ll soon see.)

An Agile team can’t just talk about these 4 values. They have to live them.

In the next section, we’ll tell you exactly how to do that.

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What does living the Agile values look like?

The original Agile Manifesto, published in 2000, focused on twelve Agile principles and 4 Agile values.

And over the last 2 decades, each Agile principle and value has stayed remarkably consistent. Because they work.

How do we know they work?

According to research, Agile projects are 2x more likely to succeed than projects run with traditional methods.

We cover the 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto in detail in another post. Today, let’s focus on how to embody the 4 values.

#1: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Individuals are unique. Processes aren’t.

Each software developer on your team brings different skills to the table. Creativity, learning capacity, problem-solving skills, and technical know-how are all vital — and you get the most of them when you give your employees freedom to act.

A lot of organizations aren’t ready for that.

They’re stuck in the old model where each team needs to justify its budget. That means strict goals, objectives, metrics, and KPIs to meet.

But when you demand the same thing out of every employee every day, they never get the chance to surprise you. They’ll just pass the test and forget everything they learned.

When an individual comes into conflict with a process, the individual should win out every time.

If your processes and tools are going to help people instead of limiting them, you need to dedicate yourself to continuous improvement.

Each new sprint should include trying new things to see what might work better.

#2: Working software over comprehensive documentation

Documentation has its place. It’s important for keeping everyone on the same page.

And if you know you’ll have to document your code, you’ll be more careful when writing it.

Here’s the thing about documentation, though. Many a product manager lets it become a barrier to the project, rather than an aid.

Some teams are convinced they need to document every feature, component, and process down to the last bit before they can actually create anything of tangible value.

Look back at Agile value #1. This often happens because processes are prioritized above people.

Does the Agile Manifesto say you should avoid creating documentation?

Not at all.

It says that whenever possible, you should focus first on producing something that creates value.

All documentation needs to add to the project that’s creating value, instead of hindering it.

Document requirements, lessons learned, and other essential information. Don’t waste 2 hours a week creating a report that no one ever reads.

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#3: Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

In the past, customers and development teams treated each other like adversaries.

The customer would agree to work with you on a specific project. You’d agree to provide a particular list of features in exchange for money. Your customer signed the contract, and your team vanished into their cubicles.

Halfway through the project, your customer realizes they no longer need some of the features you’ve estimated for. They want a different set of features instead.

When locked into a rigid 6-month release schedule, your pulse starts to pound at any call or email from the customer. They can destroy everything you’ve worked for. In essence, you’re fighting them for control of the project.

The Agile Manifesto argues that companies can do better.

By drastically shortening their software development process, Agile teams can be in constant conversation with their customers without fear that a change request will derail everything.

If you use the Agile method and your customers decide they want new features, or if the market starts to look different, no problem — change up the product backlog. The next sprint is just a week away.

Choosing the customer first means encouraging open feedback at every product increment review and any time throughout the project.

It requires a willingness to adapt to new wants or needs regardless of what was written in the original contract.

#4: Responding to change over following a plan

This goes hand in hand with Agile value #3.

Planning is important. The pyramids, the Eiffel tower, and the Boeing 737 were all built using detailed long-term plans.

But none of those things went off without a single hitch along the way. Even in traditional projects, change is unavoidable.

The difference is traditional methods actively avoid it. They see it as a necessary evil.

Agile embraces change.

The Agile Manifesto was written by people who were tired of pretending software was just another slow changing industry where they could avoid changing market conditions until the next big project.

This value isn’t just about grudgingly incorporating change into your projects — it’s about genuinely looking for positive change and being excited about how it can make things better.

How can I embody the 4 Agile values?

Agile values are easy to implement. Even without a Kanban board or a Scrum team of developers.

Research shows 97% of organizations use at least 1 Agile method, but only 22% report that all their teams use Agile. And 48% report that less than half of their teams use Agile.

Here are a few ways you can introduce the Agile values into your company even if your team doesn’t have an Agile framework in place.

#1: Encourage and welcome communication with customers and your team. The more open and transparent your communication, the easier it is to create value. A good client management template can help.

#2: Prioritize trust. Once you’ve built a competent, self organizing team, trust them. Don’t micromanage. Give them the freedom to make independent decisions, and let them track their own projects and tasks as they burn through the product backlog.

#3: Build, ship, and iterate fast. Get your minimum viable product out the door fast. Keep each sprint goal small and achievable, and use testing and real-world feedback to improve rapidly over time. Deliver something viable to your customer quickly so you can use their feedback to iterate.

#4: Be customer-focused. At each phase of Agile project management, focus on maximizing value for the customer. Test your work with end-users as often as possible. Use an A/B testing template to keep track of what’s performing well and what isn’t.

Agile adoption is growing rapidly. Organizations that fully implement the ideas of the Agile Manifesto will pull ahead of the teams and organizations that don’t.

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Every company has its own set of challenges.

Some organizations need more transparency. Others struggle to meet their deadlines. A few need to get their products to market at a lower cost.

When studied thoughtfully, the Agile Manifesto can solve all those problems and more.

Agile project management doesn’t require expensive courses or a Scrum master certificate. It depends on 1 thing: sticking closely to each Agile value and following a workflow that suits your team.

Your values determine the culture within your organization, and the way you talk to your clients. You can’t just put the values on a poster — you have to live them every day.

When you’re ready to evolve, tools like the change management template can help you migrate your processes in style.

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