Practices Change, Principles Don’t

“Practices change, principles don’t.” This is a saying I picked up from Traci Fenton of WorldBLU when I interviewing her by phone last year. Since that time I have come to internalize this saying and use it for guidance when coaching executives and teams.

The Agile community isn’t calling this out and really leveraging the idea. The Agile Manifesto has 12 principles. They appear as an additional page, after the values. You have to click through to see them. I’m not sure how many people know about these 12 principles.

Here is an enlightened blog post from Joshua Kerievsky which makes good sense to me. In this post he advocates dropping the use of story points and velocity in Agile work. For mature teams, this is probably OK. Now, what’s interesting about these two practices is that they really do not directly support much of the Manifesto principles at all. See it? In addition, Josh calls out how making his adjustment does support one of the Manifesto 12:

“…Using the new process, we shipped (on average) 1-2 times per week. Our agility had increased by removing once-sacred pieces from our process. We were now even better at delivering on the promise of the Agile Manifesto’s first principle:”

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

These 12 principles supply enough guidance to build a team that can learn and adapt. In my book The Culture Game, I explain this. These 12 principles are so good and complete, you can use almost any practice that does not violate these 12 ideas, and be OK. If you map Scrum to the Agile Manifesto, it is clear that Scrum is not violating any of these principles.

Likewise, you can institute ANY practice and so long as you are in alignment with these 12 principles from the Agile Manifesto, you are going to be OK. People learning to learn a a group need something like Scrum to start. After experiencing Scrum and internalizing some of the 12 Manifesto principles, teams can try all kinds of things. They may find Scrum ws better than they thought, or they may develop a higher level of group functioning that includes “Examining What’s Normal”, something I devote a complete chapter to in The Culture Game book.

The point here is simple: it’s not whether Scrum or Kanban is better. Or whether iterations or continuous flow is better.

What matters is that you tie your practices BACK to the 12 Manifesto principles, because alignment with them makes your team much smarter. You can use any practice at any time and be OK if you do this. So, when evaluating your practices, or discussing them, be specific about how they do (or do not) align with the 12 Principles of the Agile Manifesto.

“Practices change, principles don’t.” – Traci Fenton,