Agile without value

Agile provides no value over any other method. Agile value is in the Agile values. Companies try Agile without values and blame Agile for their failure. Culture is how people get things done. More important than what gets done, how things get done represents organization values and principles.

Values represent the principles or standards of behavior that drive motivation. Agile values and principles are the only successful guidance. Agile is not a method. Agile is a mindset.

Corporate culture and guiding values define how people collaborate. Agile value stands on principles over form. Culture is not a method or a template, culture is the values and principles in action,  observable, and committed.

Values do not build software or deliver technology platforms. People build software from a team of unique and different behavior. Company values offer no single process that all people follow. Values are aspirations, not directives, such as Google’s values:

  • Focus on the user and all else will follow,
  • It’s best to do one thing really, really well,
  • Fast is better than slow,
  • Democracy on the web works,
  • You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer

Critical. Yes. Important. Yes. But how does a corporation teach “Fast is better than slow”? Is there a template, training class, or certification?

Guidelines of how values might look in practice provide shared meaning of behavior, not process, for people to adopt values.

Culture is a mindset defined by values, guided by principles, and enabled through practice.

The practice is in the principles, not the parts. It takes many teams for corporate scale. Without shared value, people and teams scale their version. This only scales confusion.

What template would assures success? None.

The gulf is similar to how companies attempt to adopt Agile. Agile is not a practice, Agile is values and principles practiced, not the template in practice. Values provide direction towards culture, behavior, expectation, and norms.

Deliberate practice is the only link to adoption.

Agile Mindset

In 2017 the Project Management Institute (PMI) released an update to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK). Five years of revisions went into the PMBOK 6.0 and the iterative and incremental, Agile, delivery methods became core to project methods. PMI partnered with Agile Alliance to release the Agile Practice Guide and join the PMBOK 6.0 as a dynamic duo – their words, not mine.

Many companies continue to doubt Agile, a revision, from PMI, the world’s leading project management organization, leave many waterfall acolytes behind out of their element, like a fish out of water.

Sadly, the waterfall adherence and pure ignorance continue to leave many to refute Agile and Lean delivery viability. PMI’s guidance on change reveals investment in values and principles is required to change practice.

Values are visible behavior, in practice and observed by others. How an organization values their values in practice may vary, for example, some companies ask for peer comments that provide examples of how people practice reinforce values. How would a company like Starbucks expect to identify values in practice:

  • Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
  • Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.
  • Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.
  • Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect

Values align norms. Within Starbuck’s values provide direct samples to observable values in practice.

Samples, not absolutes.

No single end-to-end values exercise will scale culture. Values are not a method neither ‘Strive to be the Best’ nor ‘It’s Best to Do One Thing Very Well’ have single success measures in practice.

Values are realized in diverse and individual ways, but behavior to reach these values become familiar expectations, practiced many ways.

Agile Without Value

To co-opt a line from the Agile Practice Guide: mindset is defined by values, guided by principles, and enabled by various practices.

Agile: less work, more value.

Sounds great. All you need is a guide and fortunate for all, this table provides the four values that guide the initial manifesto for Agile Software Development that started this.

1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. 7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage. 8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale. 9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. 10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. 11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation. 12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
Download free copy of the Manifesto.

What does individuals and interactions over processes and tools really look like? What could that mean to different people, at different levels that are used to the one-throat-to-choke management style?

The values do not tell you how, just what.

Without shared values, Agile remains a unique to each person. A shared view requires fundamental belief in Agile values. Agile is difficult. No. Wait. Strike that. Agile without values is difficult. Difficult both in theory and in practice.

Training is a start, but without coaching and accountability, training is waste.

Value Principles Over Process

Happily, further clarity comes from the Agile principles that support the Agile Manifesto values.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

Skeptic or believer, Agile divorced from values and principles fails. There is no template, blue print, flow chart, or checklist that all follow. Agile challenges people to change the way end-to-end work is done and the way they contribute to that work.

Agile without behaviors that support values of how work is done is facade and those that try to do Agile are exposed as frauds. Agile is not training. Agile is not a template. Agile is not an end-to-end gate review. Agile is:

… a mindset defined by the Agile Manifesto values, guided by the Manifest principles, and enabled by various practices.
– Agile Practice Guide, inspired by a model by Ahmed Sidky

Agile is easy. Agile principles support the environment for Agile values. The principles further articulate behavior practice. ‘Working software is the primary measure of progress’, there are a lot of ways to get there. There are immutable values and principles from decades of delivery examples, beyond working software, to guide those on a journey to discover their values, in practice.

Agile without values has no value. No amount of Agile training, communication, handbooks, or templates can force-fit success.

Without Agile values and principles, what scales? Corporations seem to have a great need to address a challenge for better Agile corporate output. Any of the following are guides, here are a few:

Agile will frustrate more than deliver if none of the above achieve objectives without support for Agile values for the individual and the team.

Lead with values and principles over process and Agile is not difficult.

Agile Values in Principle

Doing Agile without being Agile is difficult. There is a common Agile comparison of Being Agile vs. Doing Agile. The truth is in the observable values. One is behavior, the other the tool.

Without a chance to do what you learn you forget what you learned. The organization design must change, HR must get involved. To support corporate values, Agile values must synchronize across the organization.

Like any behavior change, being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect, as found in Starbucks core values, has many paths to realization.

The failure for Agile adoption is that training lacks modeling. After Agile training, when a person returns to their job and a manager that has not changed, a process that does not change, a job that does not change, no upstream and downstream partners change, enterprise applications that do not change, and their team does not change of course the silo remains.

Values are what one is, not what one does. Not many documents or templates instill values. Culture is an attitude that needs all layers for support.Corporations too often look at governance to enforce what to follow.

Time to Forget

Ebbinhaus, forgetting curve, learn, train, design

There is no finish line for values in practice, only relentless practice to put values into practice. 40% of what is taught is forgotten in 20 minutes, the next day 60%.

Without change and without support there is little that corporate training and transformation programs can expect with Agile success as people forget what is learned. Without a place to practice what was taught, no values and principles in to support new behavior what, then, was learned?

Value is difficult to achieve. Difficult in practice. Difficult to repeat. Difficult to scale. Gaps from what is taught and what is practiced disrupt the flow of what is possible. Agile values support corporate values. Put another way, corporate values support Agile values.

Education costs in time, in mistakes, in effort. One learning path is cost of educating Agile without values and principles: waste, where training is an investment facade.

No template exists for people to lean in and gain common understanding or to deliver principles in practice. Support comes in observable behavior and the organization design to support change in how we talk, work, and deliver value.

The value to more value is how values make us behave.

Too many companies train Agile, but never change people, process, and practice to support Agile values. Certification without experience does not enable adoption.

After training:

  • Who coaches?
  • Where is the deliberate practice?

After certification:

  • What supports behavior transfer?
  • When does process change?

The environment for values relies more on principles that define culture. Spreadsheets, documents, file libraries, and governance models without a mindset shift offers little more than guano.

… post inspired from discussion and comments with Brehk Kieft

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