September 1, 2015

12 Principles of Agile – Part 1

Written by Jannette Brace

Over the course of this three part blog, I will cover all of the 12 Agile Principles. In this first installment I implore you to stay tuned for all 12, and get to know how principles can impact your team. I believe following these principles is the core of being “Agile”.  It is a topic I am always excited to discuss. How does your group follow the 12 Principles? Is there room for improvement?

1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. 
Let’s face it, if we aren’t delivering something of value, what are we doing?

Everyone on the team must understand the value of what they are delivering. As a team, we become “one” focused on our delivery. The value we provide binds us together, and gives us purpose.

Product Owners can provide the team with a Vision to help guide the team to value delivery. Each sprint delivery supports the vision.

We aren’t all lucky enough to work on feature teams delivering software. If you fall in this category, just replace the word “software” with what you do deliver.

Find your value, and deliver small pieces like building blocks.

2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for customer’s competitive advantage. 
While this principle seems to invite disastrous changing of scope at any time, this is not the intent. We do not interrupt sprints once they are started, unless it is a dire emergency. There are ways to stop a sprint, which is a topic on its own. What this principle asks us to do, is keep our backlog up-to-date.

If a new feature is requested, it can easily be added to the backlog. If a feature in the backlog is considered to be out-of-date, it can be removed or updated.

As development progress, and more of the backlog is completed, everyone is learning and discovering together. This principle allows us to change, reminding us that the backlog is fluid.

Organizations need to adapt their policies to embrace these changes, or they miss out on a fundamental benefit of being Agile.

Teams should not feel mad, angry or bad because requirements have changed. I often see negative reactions to change, when just the opposite should happen. Through the teams’ continuous delivery, we learn and therefore we adapt.

I like to tell leadership, through your Product Owner we enable the team to build the highest value features at any time. Don’t get locked into years of work in the backlog. Stay engaged, work with Product Owner, keep the backlog alive. Remember the motto “just enough, just in time”, as it will reduce waste by not documenting requirements too far out in the future, that could end-up being changed, or cut altogether.

3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter time scale. 
You’ve decided to follow Agile. You have a backlog, and a team ready to work. Now you just have to get everyone focused on frequent delivery. Organizations like Netflix deliver continuously (see http://venturebeat.com/2014/03/10/continuous-delivery/). However, the rest of us may be still trying to adapt to delivering at the end of a 2-week sprint.

The reason for short time scales is important to understand. Short time scales reduce risk and waste. We test smaller chunks, we get feedback sooner, and overall can react to change easily when we are working in small increments. A short sprint cycle provides plenty of practice, and opportunities for skill and process improvements.

The team needs small stories. Without stories small enough to be built and tested during the sprint, the team will not be able to fit work into shorter time scales. How small? Half a day to two days of effort. Do you shudder at the thought? Developers don’t always like this concept at first, but it is important to try smaller pieces of work. The benefit of small stories outweigh the fact that developers may have to touch code more than once.

Many Agile organizations aim for two week sprints. Some successfully, but new Agile organization may allow teams to work on just a couple of stories that take the entire two weeks; when complete, these stories may be handed over to a QA team. If you are falling into the latter category, there is still improvements to be done to truly benefit from Agile.

In the Scaled Agile Framework, we are introduced to the phrase “Develop on Cadence, and Release on Demand” http://scaledagileframework.com/develop-on-cadence-release-on-demand/. Supporting the notion that the teams’ developed work may sit until the organization is ready for the release, although it is considered “delivered” by the team. Delivery by the team, means the work passed test and is done. Completed work is ready for Sprint Review. The work is demonstrated and feedback is gathered.

4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
Oh how I long to click my heels together, and be transported wherever I want. As an Agile organization, you are lucky if everyone is collocated. It is a desire many of us share. The reality is Agile has moved beyond start-ups and web-dev groups. Agile is embraced by organizations large and small; located centrally as well as all over the world.

Using good communication tools can help us feel like we work together, even when we aren’t collocated. The idea of working together daily, allows everyone involved to participate in the Daily Scrum; it allows us to have easy access to each other. No longer are requirements written and “thrown over the wall” to be developed. Developers can share their screens with us, ask questions, get feedback, and quickly resolve issues when Product Owners and business users are readily available. Don’t wait until the Sprint Review to touch base with your team. You will find you have another way to reduce risk and waste.

Use Team Agreements or Team Norms to identify practices for working together. Collocate teams whenever possible. Invite business users to Sprint Reviews. Include times when Product Owners will be available to everyone, as well as when developers can work uninterrupted.

Let me know your comments, and stay tuned for Part-2 where I’ll will discuss the next four Principles.

Leave a Comment

One Response to “12 Principles of Agile – Part 1”

  1. AK.Dev says:

    I am with the spirit of third principle but not its wording. Agile should tell what is good for customers. Let customer decide the frequency and time interval for the release of working software.

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