Agile was founded based on values and principles. It’s not a methodology or a philosophy to get things done but rather a framework, and a collection of beliefs teams use to make decisions.
The Agile principles will help you guide your team on the right path, even when you’re unsure of your next step. In this article, we will explain the 12 Agile principles and how these help software teams adapt, optimize, and improve the development of software products or services.
What is Agile?
Agile refers to methodologies focused on iterative development where processes and solutions occur through continual collaboration among cross-functional teams.
Instead of following a well-defined and strict plan, Agile teams focus on continual improvement and efficiency. They work under “sprints,” which consist of specific tasks or deliverables boxed in a time frame. Each sprint typically lasts from two to four weeks, but this depends on the product in development. What’s worth noting is that sprints are not used in every single Agile approach. Kanban, for example, doesn’t use it.
In software development, Agile transformed entirely the way teams structured processes. Before Agile, software development life cycles like Waterfall focused on delivering software through a linear and rigid process.
With Agile, there’s no set of rules, procedures, or hierarchy that needs to be followed. The Agile software development life cycle (SDLC) focuses on breaking the process into manageable actions that can be continually improved until it reaches its primary goal. What matters is to deliver the best result possible.
A group of 17 engineers created Agile, focusing on building an efficient foundation to manage projects. However, since its inception, Agile has been more than a series of methodologies.
With 4 core values and 12 principles, Agile has become a globally accepted mindset for managing projects.
4 Agile Values
The Agile manifesto has 4 values and the 12 supporting principles that lead the Agile approach to software development.
1. Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools
You can have high-tech tools and solid processes, but it’s the team that determines a project’s success. This value focuses on the importance of having teams with fluid communication who can respond to changes and customer needs.
2. Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation
One of the reasons software development was slower and ineffective was due to all the technical specifications, requirements, documents, extensive planning, etc. Some Agile requirements are presented as a user story, which helps speed up the process. Documentation is still valuable, but working software is even more valuable in Agile.
3. Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation
Agile aims to have customers engaged and who collaborate throughout the development process. Instead of having a negotiation period to outline all project details, it focuses on having a collaborative relationship from the start resulting in customers being heavily involved in the process. This makes it easy for Agile teams to quickly implement the customer’s feedback, understanding their needs and requirements.
4. Responding to Change Over Following a Plan
What characterizes Agile is that it embraces change. Instead of having a very strict and specific plan of development, the project should focus on delivering value. The definition of what value means for the project will vary, along with the project scope.
The 12 Agile Principles Explained
What are the 12 principles of Agile?
The 12 Agile Manifesto Principles are designed to help teams focus on what’s important, such as efficiently delivering valuable software, embracing change, working collaboratively, and prioritizing the customer’s needs, among other things.
These are the 12 principles of Agile explained:
1. “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”
Understanding customers’ changing expectations is one of the priorities in Agile teams. Instead of having a linear structure, where they engage with customers only at the start and end of the project, Agile emphasizes the importance of having a continuous cycle of feedback and improvement.
Agile understands that a customer’s needs might change or evolve, so instead of focusing on a rigid plan, teams focus on a series of iterations followed by customer feedback. This way, it’s easier for the product to be aligned with customer expectations and allows the team to focus only on valuable features.
As this principle focuses on the continuous feedback cycle, Agile teams often build a minimum viable product (MVP), and its response informs future releases. Product teams can test and validate their ideas by using MVP and experimentations. Teams do not release a final product, but iterations continue to make improvements until the product has reached a certain level of satisfaction.
2. “Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.”
One of the main characteristics of an Agile project is its adaptability. This second principle means that teams need to be willing to make changes to stay competitive even when the project is advanced.
Often, software teams think that the most reliable way to achieve a successful product is to make a solid plan and stick to it. But for Agile, it’s the other way around. Allowing change is necessary for teams to gain a competitive advantage.
Agile teams embrace change and are continually reconsidering their strategies and processes to ensure the quality of the product.
Adaptation and the willingness to change are part of Agile’s core strengths. Allowing change becomes necessary for teams to gain a competitive advantage.
Instead of prioritizing having well-documented plans, the Agile team focuses on observing the market, the customer needs, studying them in-depth, and being aware of the competitive threats they might face along the way.
3. “Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.”
As mentioned, for Agile, the clients’ and stakeholders’ feedback is fundamental. Instead of waiting to build a final product to present it, Agile focuses on delivering work frequently.
This means that Agile teams work with “sprints” where tasks and goals are usually planned in the short term.
Sprints allow customers to see how the product is evolving and for the team to evaluate if there are improvements to be made. The idea is to achieve goals on smaller scales that will ultimately contribute to the product as a whole. Teams are aware of the specific goals they need to reach while adapting and changing the product until it fulfills the customer’s expectations.
Software development teams work in sprints with a set timeframe between 2 and 4 weeks.
4. “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.”
The fourth Agile principle focuses on unifying departments, prioritizing collaboration regularly. The idea is that customers, key stakeholders, and leadership work hand in hand with developers, strengthening the communication channels to ensure everyone is on the same page.
During the development of a product, business and tech groups work together consistently, building trust and transparency throughout the process. It also helps give immediate feedback to developers making sure that new arising requirements and details for existing ones are taken into consideration.
While, for some teams who haven’t applied Agile, having everyone involved through all the stages might seem like it will cost more time, in the long term, it’s more beneficial because it optimizes processes. It helps teams recognize gaps between business and tech teams early enough to avoid future problems.
Transparency while delivering a product is crucial on both sides. Businesses should be aware of development status and blockers as much as developers need to be aware of all market/business or organizational restraints of the project.
Agile teams prioritize regular meetings. For instance, every day, they have a daily meeting that takes only 15 minutes, and each member of the group shares what they are currently working on and if they have had any roadblocks.
5. “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”
Usually, at the start of the project, where the planning and first steps take place, the team is motivated and ready to get started. However, it is harder for individuals to stay motivated and focused on the final goal when problems arise.
Agile principle 5 emphasizes the importance of choosing the right people with the right skills and roles to be part of the project to achieve success. And it also encourages team leaders to give them the necessary tools and resources.
Motivating team members is also about listening to their ideas and showing that it’s important. Giving team members the confidence to speak up is also a way to help them improve their performance.
This principle also focuses on trust, which translates into avoiding micromanagement. A key aspect of the Agile framework is to empower team members through trust and autonomy.
Team leaders need to ensure that developers understand strategy and requirements before development starts. Not necessarily focusing on how something will be built, but more on the “what” and “why”. The delivery team is who determines the “how” through the process.
The goal is to provide support when roadblocks appear and brainstorm on possible solutions through the sprints, not micromanaging.
6. “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”
The sixth Agile principle translates primarily into two things: Communication and collaboration. The most effective way for teams to be on the same page is to communicate continually.
While this principle focuses on the face-to-face aspects, something to keep in mind is that it was written two decades ago, when Zoom and other remote tools weren’t part of the panorama.
In today’s world, applying this principle is not for face-to-face exclusively, but it highlights the importance of meaningful connections and conversations. While email and texting are fast and easier alternatives, video calls, and even regular phone calls are the best channels for remote teams to communicate effectively.
This principle is applied in software teams through daily meetings, brainstorming sessions, sprint planning meetings, frequent demos, and pair programming.
7. “Working software is the primary measure of progress.”
To understand this principle, let’s rewind to pre-Agile times to understand how teams used to measure success.
As mentioned, in many cases, software development was a hierarchical and linear process. This meant that teams, instead of working through iterations, left most of the testing and refactoring to the final stage. In the end, this left unhappy customers and many problems to review and improve, and that took time.
Agile focuses on maintaining a working software, measuring the progress of what has been completed. Each feature and addition is reviewed by the tech team and the client. So when it’s time to work on the next steps, the client is happy, and revisions and testing have already taken place.
Working software is not the final product, but it refers to each iteration. Agile teams work on Minimum Viable Features. That way, they measure success by delivering a working product that satisfies customers.
Software teams design and release Minimum Viable Features instead of fully-fledged features to get feedback and validate the product while building software. This makes agile teams have the capacity to adapt to change and gain a competitive advantage, as explained in the previous principles.
8. “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.”
The key concept in this principle is “sustainable development.” What Agile means by this is that project managers and leaders should set realistic and clear expectations, even if that means that a project will take longer than expected.
In some cases, software development teams set high expectations trying to fulfill all requirements in a short period. And the problem is that putting in extra time to meet deadlines quickly burns out the team, impacting the quality of the outcome, morale, and motivation.
The idea is to strengthen morale by encouraging a healthy work-life balance with realistic goals. It’s not about finishing projects fast, but about making them at a constant rate.
Before every sprint takes place, teams need to consider the amount of work they can commit to. Instead of overpromising and not fulfilling expectations, teams should set realistic goals without adding more tasks through the process. Once a sprint starts, teams stick to the goals and tasks they have already established.
9. “Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.”
This principle focuses on constantly reviewing the product after every iteration. Agile promotes continuous attention to technical excellence and good quality design.
The purpose of this principle is to encourage teams to avoid shortcuts just because they want to finish a project faster. Most of the time, shortcuts become more costly in the long run.
Developers and the product management team work hand in hand to understand if the technical debt is acceptable. Usually, they will need to allocate development resources to refactoring efforts.
10. “Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.”
This Agile principle focuses on keeping processes as simple as possible. In other words, it talks about working smart, not hard.
Agile teams recognize what adds value to a project and what doesn’t, which enables them to maximize the resources that best serve their project. Too many features and planning are avoided at all costs. The idea is to avoid distractions and streamline the cycle to make it more efficient.
For Agile, simplifying and focusing on the things that truly matter is what has the most impact. In a product management context, leaders should always be focused on prioritizing, even if that means making difficult decisions.
Product managers are strongly aligned with organizational goals, and the customer wants and needs. This makes them selective in the user stories and features they pick. With prioritization techniques, they ensure that the strategies they implement always have a purpose and a “why” behind them.
11. “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.”
Self-organizing teams are made up of a committed and motivated group able to plan, estimate and complete the work autonomously while engaging with the customers. This also breaks down the traditional vertical management style.
This Agile principle focuses on self-organizing teams that work under a more flat and horizontal management style. This translates into autonomous teams capable of acting faster, as they don’t need permission for every decision they make.
In practice, Agile teams are autonomous groups in an organization that have full control over their projects and take ownership in such areas.
12. “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”
This last Agile principle encourages leaders to take time to evaluate what the team has done, how they’ve performed, and how they can improve.
Agile focuses on delivering products through continual improvement, always considering feedback. Similar to this process, teams need to frequently evaluate their process and see ways to make it more efficient.
The idea behind this principle is to have sessions where the team reflects on their performance and discuss ways management and technical skills can be improved.
Agile Principles focus on providing guidelines to ensure teams focus on the right things. These are the 12 Agile Principles, explained in simpler terms:
1. Customer satisfaction through early and continuous delivery of software.
2. Focus on working on smaller and achievable tasks.
3. Adhere to a timeframe for the delivery of a working product.
4. Stakeholders need to frequently collaborate throughout the entire development process to ensure the project moves in the right direction.
5. Create a supportive environment that motivates team members.
6. Constant communication is key to a project’s success.
7. Progress is measured by working software.
8. Maintain a constant and realistic pace of development.
9. Always keep an eye out for technical details.
10. Simplicity is key.
11. Promote self-organization.
12. Reflect on the team’s performance to continue improving.
Thousands of organizations across the world claim to be Agile. However, as explained in the article, Agile is not a methodology or a philosophy; it is a framework.
Understanding the values and the principles of Agile provides teams with a foundation to make the right decisions, create quality software, and solid cross-functional teams.