20+ Agile Principles (2019)

Agile Principles

50+ Agile Values and Principles Tutorial 2019

What is Agile? Most people think it is a process, a set of practices, and even tools. But it is none of those things. 

As it relates to success, Agile is the enabler that harnesses the power of employees and feedback from customers for successful deliveries in a frequent manner. This tutorial explains the 50+ Agile values and principles used in company with best examples. 


Agile Principle 1:

The culture of Agile Values

Agile Values

Everyone in the organization should understand and embrace the Agile values and principles. Although many people are aware of them or have seen them at one time or another, few remind themselves of what it means to be Agile on a regular basis, particularly when they are buried in the mechanics of doing Agile.


It is beneficial to periodically review the Agile values and discuss them at a deeper level. Here is a deeper look at the four polar pairs of agile values declared in the Agile manifesto.


“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” This value helps us understand that the way we work may adapt over time. It also ensures that a predefined process or tool does not dictate how we interact.


“Working software over comprehensive documentation.” This value helps us understand what the customer values as well as the business perspective of the product we are building. 


“Responding to change over following a plan.” This value helps us respond to the changes in customer needs and market conditions, and apply an inspect-and-adapt approach with customer feedback to lead to customer value.


Ordering Agile Values Exercise: In groups of three, rank in order of importance the values and explain your ranking. Share the reasons of your rank order with other groups.


Agile Principle 2:

Where Evolutionary-Teal Supports Agile


The evolutionary-teal paradigm emphasizes the capability to self-organize around the organizational purpose. The hierarchical structures are replaced with self-organization focusing on the smaller teams. This is aligned with the Agile principle of self-organizing teams. (In other words, the best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams).


In fact, one of the breakthroughs of moving to the teal paradigm is self-management where an organization operates as if there are no managers.


It is in the teal paradigm where we evolve beyond and become separated from our ego in order to better understand the wisdom of others. We have to learn to see our own world from the outside.


The analogy that Laloux uses is “like a fish that can see water for the first time when it jumps above the surface.” Once we can separate from our ego, we begin to understand how our ego has separated us from others.


To a great extent, this is where the Agile retrospective helps team members see the views of others in order to improve and evolve into a more effective team.


Much like a move to an Agile culture is a leap across a chasm to a wholly different mindset, a move to the evolutionary-team paradigm. It is akin to crossing a chasm to operate in a self-managed way where mistakes are an opportunity to learn and grow, and where we strive for wholeness within ourselves and with others.


Agile Principle 3:

Reading the Culture


Most Agile transformations start with implementing the Agile mechanics of processes, practices, and techniques. These types of transformations tend to ignore the cultural aspects of Agile. Agile is a cultural change, consider starting your Agile transformation from a cultural perspective.


Reading the mind is akin to conditioning the soil prior to growing the seeds. It is worth taking a long hard look at the conditions of the fields, equipment, and people—an analogy for your Agile galaxy.


Strengthening the soil helps to improve its physical qualities. This is similar to educating people about Agile values and principles and a customer-value-driven enterprise prior to any mechanical implementation. It provides employees with a cultural understanding of what they are trying to achieve.


What are some readiness activities you can do to begin activating the Agile culture? Begin by reading the minds or your employees with education on Agile values and principles and customer value.


Ask employees what an enterprise would look like that puts the values and principles into action. Highlight what more advanced organizations can look like by discussing the pluralistic-green and evolutionary-teal paradigms.


Ask what an engaged employee looks like in an Agile culture. Ask what an engaged customer looks like in an Agile culture. Also, start to examine levels of willingness and capability among the employee base so you understand the current level of commitment. 


Agile Principle 4:

Assessing the Culture You Have

Agile culture

As you begin your readiness activities, consider understanding the culture that you have. There is a saying in the culture change circles that you should “meet them where they are.”


By understanding your Agile culture, you gain the benefit of having a baseline by understanding the pros and the cons of the culture, which helps you prioritize your Agile readiness activities ahead. It can be used in the future to see where you’ve made progress.


Below is an Agile cultural assessment survey based on desired Agile behaviors. It helps you understand where you are from a customer-value-driven, employee-engagement, customer-engagement, Agile-values-and-principles, and pluralistic-green-paradigm, and evolutionary-teal-paradigm perspective. For each statement, the participants choose an option that best aligns with their view.


They may also rate how they think their leaders view the statement. Or they can answer for both themselves and their leaders to recognize differences.


Agile Cultural Assessment Survey

Agile Cultural Assessment

  1. We believe having the flexibility to collaborate and communicate with each other helps us be more productive.
  2. We believe the working product is seen as more important than internal documentation.
  3. We believe customer collaboration should be promoted along the way.
  4. We are allowed to move beyond the plan and toward the direction of value.
  5. We are focused more on satisfying (external) customers than on satisfying (internal) management.
  6. We welcome change to requirements throughout the product development lifecycle.
  7. We believe in frequent delivery in smaller increments.
  8. We believe in business and development working together along the way.
  9. We believe in trusting individuals and valuing employees’ opinions.
  10. We believe in face-to-face communication and keeping teams collocated.
  11. We believe that a working product is the primary measure of progress.
  12. We believe in allowing teams to establish their own sustainable pace.
  13. We believe in promoting attention to technical and business excellence on teams.
  14. We believe in maximizing the amount of work not done.
  15. We believe in the importance of self-organizing teams who have ownership and decision-making rights of their work.
  16. We believe in regularly reflecting and committing to improvements.
  17. We believe in simplified project management (lean plans, backlogs, no status reports).
  18. We believe in cross-functional teams with lightning-bolt-shaped skills able to perform most of their work.
  19. We believe in moving work to the team instead of teams to the work.
  20. We believe that team members should interview future team colleagues.
  21. We believe performance appraisals are done at the team level by team colleagues.
  22. We believe organizational space should primarily be designed to make the team more productive, including quiet spaces.


This is not meant to be an exhaustive statement list and you may adapt it to fit your needs.


“What Culture Do You Have?” Exercise: Arrange to have a group of leaders together. Share the statements with them and ask them to choose their level of belief for each statement (from strongly agree to strongly disagree). Tally up the results and find the average score. Also capture the range of scores (3 at Strongly Agree, 2 at Agree, 4 at Somewhat Agree, and so on). Identify an area of improvement.


What Culture Do You Have?

 Agile mindset

There is a recognition that it is time to get serious about adapting to an Agile mindset and the behaviors and culture change it brings instead of a having a mechanical approach. A strong Agile culture must focus on how individuals and organizations behave and operate at all levels of an enterprise.


Consider understanding the culture that you have by establishing the 3-D version of your Agile galaxy. Also, consider completing the Agile cultural assessment survey initially with some of your trusted colleagues and then branching out to other teams.


Agile Principle 6:

Embracing Customers

The second challenge is that the term “customer” is being applied to a number of people “in” the company who are “not customers.” For further clarification, a customer is someone external to the company and meets the conditions previously stated (has a choice and pays).


When you incorrectly title someone a customer when they are not, your company will not really be customer-value-driven as you are not using actual customer feedback to drive toward customer value.


Customers in a Value-Driven Enterprise

 Value-Driven Enterprise

What the customers see as progress is not the standard project documents, a project plan that indicates the task completion, or status reports. Rather, customers see progress as tangible working product functionality. They purchase a working product, not the plans, status reports, and other administrative items.


Customers delight in seeing the working product in action and the inspect-and-adapt approach allows customers to consider and adjust their needs until they are transformed into a valuable working product. Progress is not advanced until a piece of functionality is built with quality, meets the customer acceptance criteria, and is available for review by the customer.


Functionality equates to value for the customer and ultimately means delivering business value. This implies that you have to continuously engage with the customer to get there.


Engaging with customers only while gathering requirements and approaching product release is not enough. You need to continuously engage with customers as you are actively building the product throughout its life cycle.


Agile Principle 7:

Enterprise Anti-patterns of Attaining Customer Value

Enterprise Anti-patterns

Value is in the eye of the beholder. Smart people will say that the beholder is the customer. While in most companies, there will be a saying similar to “the customer is king,” some have lost their way and have somehow forgotten the importance of customers and their feedback.


The result is enterprise anti-patterns that impede customer value. There are a number of anti-patterns on why this occurs and the following are four:


  • Believing that you can pretend to know what the customer wants upfront with certainty. This Pretend Certainty anti-pattern has the consequence of limiting options and being blind to customer needs.


  • Focusing primarily on driving efficiencies through cost-cutting and applying high utilization of people. This No Room at the Innovation Inn anti-pattern has the unintended consequence of a lesser focus on the customer with little room to innovate and adapt.


  • Sub-optimizing for the comfort of having a well­-established plan and set of well-defined processes. This Sub-optimizing for Comfort anti-pattern has the consequence of limiting change at the expense of adapting to customer needs.


  • Engaging a few customers to represent the customer pool. The Few and the Missing anti-pattern has the consequence of missing customer needs.


When you are a startup, you realize the importance of being customer-value-driven because if customers don’t buy the product, the startup goes under.


That doesn’t mean that a startup has the right product, culture, or processes to become successful; it is that they know that without understanding customers’ needs, their hopes for a successful product or service are slim. Because of this and their small size, most startups will stay very close to the customer or potential customer.


When companies become larger, there is a greater chance of the anti-patterns that impact customer value will exist. There is a likelihood of adding more processes, which results in more steps away from employee to the customer. As companies grow, there are tendencies to put more controls in place to manage cost and, unfortunately, this leads to restricting change.


A company begins to optimize its own processes and plans. This distances itself from customers. As a company grows, there needs an explicit action to remain close to the customer. The question for you is, “Do you see these anti-­ patterns affecting customer value in your enterprise?”


One of the Agile values is responding to change over following a plan. While there may be a high-level benefit to a plan, responding to changes from customers is where there is more value.


Happy employees continuously look for ways to improve the engine. Frederic Laloux writes that pluralistic-green organizations, which focus on culture and empowerment, achieve extraordinary employee motivation.


The COMETS within Your Agile Galaxy

Agile Galaxy

COMETS stands for Collaboration, Ownership, Motivation, Empowerment, Enthusiasm, Trust, and Safety—the values that an organization must embrace if they believe employees matter.


These values should be nurtured and become part of an Agile culture that values its employees and understands their importance for the success of building customer value.


It is important to understand that when the term employee is used, it applies to all employees, from team members to executives. All levels should be exhibiting collaboration, ownership, motivation, empowerment, trust, and safety (just in different ways).


For example, ownership implies a bounded authority where executives have ownership of work at their level (for example, strategy) and teams have ownership at their level (for example, user stories in backlog). 


As you explore each value, what actions and behaviors would you expect to see? The following is a quick definition of each of the attributes of COMETS. Collaboration is the ability to work with someone to build something. Ownership is feeling that you have the right to control and enjoy an area of work or work item.


Motivation is a willingness or desire to do your work. Empowerment is the belief that you have the right to set the direction of something. Trust is confidence regarding an expectation. Safety is having the belief that it is safe to learn and take risks.


Agile Principle 8:



Collaboration from an Agile and business perspective is defined as two or more people creatively working together with a common purpose to produce a positive business outcome. Within the context of self-organizing teams, it is important for team members to collaborate. Notice I used the terms “creatively” and “positive” in my definition.


Collaboration is meant to produce an outcome. It is meant to bring people and their knowledge together to create something new or different. If two people are not being creative, then it is just two people doing something operational.


Collaboration in my definition is meant to be positive. There is such a thing as “bad” collaboration when not everyone has the same common purpose. “Good” collaboration relies on an environment where people honestly align with the common purpose and willingly accept new knowledge in an open and trusting manner to create something new.


From the employees’ perspective, collaboration provides them with the opportunity to team up with people pursuing a common purpose and to learn from each other along the way. Effective collaboration requires employees to connect with people and with their inner selves. It teaches them to work more effectively and can lead to a high-performing team.


It is important not to confuse collaboration with communication and coordination. Collaboration is a two-way action where two or more people work together to produce a positive outcome.


Communication is a one-way action of sharing information in writing, speaking, or another medium. Coordination is often a one-way action of bringing together various elements to enable activity.


Coordination can promote a more effective collaboration outcome, and communication can be used to share the results of the collaboration. Combined with ownership and empowerment, collaboration allows employees to own and change the direction of the work. This leads to happier employees who feel their abilities are being put to good use.


Agile Principle 9:



Ownership is probably the most important factor in gauging whether employees matter. Ownership is defined as having the authority and the resources necessary to do work effectively.


When employees feel ownership of their work, they typically take more pride, put more effort, and bring more quality to their work. Within the context of self-organizing teams, each team understands what work it owns within its bounded authority.


In which scenario will a person put more effort? Is it to maintain a rented apartment or maintain an owned home? If you don’t own something, you are likely to invest less effort. When you own a home, you will likely take better care of it and be more likely to invest time and money to improve it because you feel the pride of ownership.


In fact, you are more likely to protect and defend it. If employees feel ownership of their work, they will much more likely be willing to invest extra time and bring high-quality labor to the work.


Agile Principle 10:

Intrinsic Motivators

Intrinsic Motivators

The intrinsic motivational methods focus on those motivators that come from inside the employee. 


There are intrinsic motivators related to a sense of value, meaning, progress, and competence. These types of motivation may be driven by enjoyment, curiosity, ownership, autonomy, and pride. What are specific examples of intrinsic motivators?


They may involve contributing to a team (for example, building a product), to a cause (such as increasing the number of women in leadership), or to a movement (for instance, being Agile). They may involve gaining ­mastery in a domain (for example, Agile and Java programming).


Intrinsic motivators are best applied when identifying an employee’s ­consequential purpose. The more consequential the purpose, the more self-motivated an employee becomes. In relation to an Agile culture, it may mean that you have a feeling of ownership of the work. It may mean that you have autonomy in your work, such as deciding what work you do, how you do the work, and what the pace of the work will be.


Agile Principle 11:


Agile principles states

Some people say trust is earned. I suggest that trust should be given. This is often seen as a change in mindset. Much of what you learn about trust is through negative experiences. This can teach some of us to start with a guarded view, which makes us believe that trust should be earned. It can feel safer, but this can be a less productive way of approaching trust.


You hire people who you trust can do the job. At the same time, either by your negative experiences or by the multiple levels of approvals, you build an environment where there is insufficient trust given.


Have checks and safeguards been added to replace trust? If you don’t trust, the safeguards are only a process layer that bandages the problem of trust and are often impeding the speed of delivery.


A better way is to start from a trust position. In the COMETS culture surrounding your Agile galaxy, is it better to start with a positive and approach-able worldview or from a negative and adverse worldview of those around you? Give your colleagues the trust and support to get the job done.


Trust is a critical element for healthy relationships, teams, organizations, and communities. Employees are your partners. Giving them the right environment, tools, and culture will help them thrive and, in turn, it will help the business thrive.


Accept the fact that everyone is indeed human and subject to faults. Also, before assuming that anyone is at fault, verify that you provided team members with the support, impediment removal, and lean processes that would enable them to succeed. Often the reason trust is broken is because the system, processes, or cultures around a team are broken. Always look to see what you can fix for a team or employees.


Agile Principle 12:

Trust Relationships

Trust Relationships

Trust is developed through relationships with those around us. These relationships are at various levels and need to be developed and continually maintained.


In most workplaces, there is more complexity in building a trusting environment beyond your peers and manager. Relationships can include intra-team trust from team member to a team member and inter-team trust from team member to a member of another team, team member to direct manager, and team member to the indirect manager.


In any of these scenarios, start from a trust position. Attempt to make connections with anyone you work with beyond work tasks. This helps employees gain familiarity and empathy with each other. When it comes time to work together, emphasize listening skills to reduce misunderstanding.


Agile Principles 13:

What Is Your Employee Culture?

Employee Culture

When you look across your enterprise, what employee culture exists? Is the culture focused on self-organizing teams and aligned with the values of COMETS and the Agile values and principles? Do the employees feel ownership of maintaining the engine of customer value? Are they free to collaborate? Are they motivated to do their best?


Are they empowered and self-organized to determine how to improve the engine and build the customer value? Are they trusted to make the decisions and do what is best? Do they feel safe to take risks? If they are, congratulations! If not, you have an opportunity to embrace a culture where employees matter.


Agile Principles 14:

Challenging Assumptions


When ideas that are valuable to customers are identified, there are often some expressed and many unexpressed assumptions. It is important to tie assumptions to the idea that is perceived to be customer value and rigorously explore the assumptions. It is often faulty assumptions that lead you to believe something is perceived to be more valuable of an idea that it really is.


This can lead to work that is actually of low value to the customer, closing off options for a change too early or ignoring valuable customer feedback along the way.


Challenging the assumptions of perceived customer value helps you rationally discuss the progression of how you got to the conclusion of value. It separates what you think you know from what you actually know. By discussing the assumptions, major uncertainties at the time are uncovered.


By highlighting these uncertainties, it provides you with information that helps you think about how to validate the assumptions. By having a conversation around assumptions, it helps those involved with an idea have a better understanding of possible customer value and the work ahead.


Earlier I discussed pretend and arrogant certainty. A good way to uncover where the certainty is coming from is to challenge the assumptions that lead to certainty thinking. It can be quite dangerous for an enterprise to ignore the signals of too much-expressed certainty. This can lead a company to select lower-value work.


Shedding Enterprise Weight

As part of being a value-driven enterprise, it is important to remove any organizational processes or activities that do not directly link to customer value.


The goal is building a customer-value engine that focuses on delivering customer value—not the weight of non-value added activities. This can be particularly challenging when those within the organization sub-optimize for internal processes or, more dangerously, for themselves.


It is important to gauge what your organization is optimizing for. As you look across your organization, do you see processes that are too heavy?


I have seen groups whose functions are no longer central to the delivery of customer value yet continue to enforce their processes on others. I have seen multiple levels of management approval where only one (or none) should be necessary.


How many of you have witnessed situations where the customer feedback clearly told you that you were moving in the wrong direction of customer value, yet because of in-house governance and processes, the feedback was inhibited or ignored and the original plan was followed anyway.


Even when you spoke up, those “in-charge” choose to optimize for the process and not customer value. This is why the value “responding to change over following a plan” found in the Agile Manifesto is so important.


Do you see people who are focused primarily on building their own kingdom? Are you (or those within the organization) internally sub-optimizing for the preservation of the status quo, for ensuring bonuses, or for maintaining power positions rather than for satisfying the customer?


Some people are so entrenched in their internally sub-optimized culture that they do not allow themselves to see the need to change until it is too late. However, they presumably have been allowed and even rewarded to continue this behavior, so changes are critical to this mindset.


When adopting Agile, there is often a lack of awareness of the amount of non-value-added work occurring. Value-added work is requested and validated by customers to produce a working product.


Non-value-added work is work not directly adding value as perceived by the customer. Some non-value-added work is even less valuable than others. While not all non-value-added work can be removed, attempts should be made to make it as lean as possible.