Practices Change; Principles Don’t


Ask 20 people what Agile is, and you might get 21 answers.

This is no way to start.

You must start with the Manifesto as the definition of Agile if you want to have any chance at all of being successful encouraging an “Agile transformation.”

First things first.

Take for example the Manifesto principle “Welcome changing requirements, even late in development.” This principle informs specific practices and specific collections of practices, like Scrum. Is Scrum the only way to honor the principle “Welcome changing requirements, even late in development?” The answer is obviously no. Teach that.

The Agile Manifesto is not perfect. It is, however, good enough for the beginning of the beginning. Therefore: Take your ego out of it. Stop using your shorter definition, even if it is valid. Teach the Manifesto instead.

By focusing them on the Manifesto, you gain the following advantages:

  • You gain a durable, scalable agreement about what Agile is.
  • You gain a shared language for making sense of Agile reality
  • You define an important set of guardrails (guidance) for behavior.
  • You trigger feelings of freedom and creativity about creating and experimenting with a wider range of Manifesto-aligned practices

Practices come and go, but principles are forever. Therefore, at every opportunity, invite the teams to either use a pre-fab, Manifesto-aligned practice like Scrum, or invent their own. Repeat: invent their own.

The one rule? Whatever they come up with must align (and stay well within the boundaries defined by) the Manifesto. Will some of them end up at Scrum? Kanban? Something else? Yes, yes, and yes.

This teaching is very liberating for teams. And you want teams feeling liberated and authorized, not coerced or forced. They learn much faster this way. To make this work, first get agreement with higher-ups on two things:

  • Experiments are good
  • Teams can experiment with any practice at the beginning, so long as they stay within the general guardrails of the Manifesto.

The added advantage here is that you are also teaching the executives something. You are getting an agreement with them about the nature of experimentation, and those (very useful!) Agile Manifesto guardrails.

Those guardrails actually work. Those guardrails point the organization in the right direction. Those guardrails are durable. And accessible. Those guardrails encourage teams to focus, almost immediately, on decision-making. And you definitely want them talking about making decisions.

Because discussing decisions and then making them is what is going to mysteriously draw them into the emerging story of the Agile adoption.

And a few of them will figure it out quickly, and begin authoring the new and emerging narrative. The narrative that will certainly survive your exit, and actually sustain that transformation…long after you vacate.

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