When an Agile coach or team realizes that their transformation efforts are not producing the desired results, the natural reactions can be to give up, try another process, or even continue the status quo in the hopes that success is around the corner. While we would never advocate for a hard stop, when a team reaches this realization, the appropriate action is to take a breath and revisit the goals and desired outcomes for the transformation. Returning to the basics underpinning all things Agile, the values and principles, can reframe and refocus the efforts toward agile adoption.
The Sound of Music
Twenty years ago, the Agile Manifesto was defined to help software developers “uncover better ways of developing software through doing it and helping others do it”. The “it” being the four values and twelve principles of the Agile Manifesto. By anchoring an Agile transformation to the definition of the values, we can see how to reset and restart an Agile transformation in an agile way.
Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools
Keeping the flow of communication and collaboration between team members helps to ensure that the team grows, delivers value, and determines its destiny together. Teams that learn to solve problems together will stick to it, even when the going is hard.
Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation
If working software is the primary measure of progress, then team success is measured through the ongoing and sustainable delivery of value to customers. When the team has a vision for how they deliver value, the best ways to work together can be guided by that vision.
Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation
While working software is the primary measure of progress, working software that the customer doesn’t need doesn’t provide value. By focusing on understanding their customer’s needs, the team will gain a vision for why they are delivering value and further refine how they need to work together.
Responding to Change Over Following a Plan
A plan is only valid until you lift your pencil. While the adage “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is true, holding to a plan that’s expected to not change will only lead to disaster. A team that plans in incremental steps to meet a current desired outcome, no matter the initiative, can adapt as the true outcome evolves.
Restarting an Agile transformation, once a team feels they are already well on their way, is not easy. It takes a lot of work and dedication to pivot. This is especially true if they have put in a lot of effort already. Applying and practicing the Agile Manifesto values and principles is one way to help with this change. Another resource for us is the 5 Scrum values with an emphasis on elevating why they are important for any Agile team.
Commitment as a value is seen as the team’s dedication to doing their best to improve how they deliver the value the customer needs. The team commits to quality over quantity and delivering value that delights their customers on an ongoing basis. They commit to challenging the status quo and improving how they work together. When a team commits to a goal or target outcome, they ensure themselves a common vision and direction.
A team demonstrates courage when it does the right thing, even when it’s hard. Having courage means taking on tough problems and not backing down until the best solution is found. It takes courage to speak up in a retrospective after a tough sprint. Courage is required for the team to admit that they need to pivot on a solution or direction that impacts a timeline or budget.
Focus as a value helps teams in many aspects. When they focus on craftsmanship, teams achieve quality products. When they focus on growing the team with consideration for individuals' overarching ambitions and goals, and interests and talents, they elevate the chances of attracting and retaining great people. When they focus on achieving Sprint Goals that align with the Product Goal, they deliver valuable Increments.
When a team values openness, it enhances the ability to listen and learn from one another. People are more likely to try something new to solve problems, make sensible adaptations, and pivot if something is not working. Openness helps them understand where they are at with the work and anything that prevents them from delivering the Increment. With openness, teams are free to acknowledge each other through sharing and accepting feedback.
Respect for one another builds trust and having trust present in an environment is necessary to elevate Agility. Respect means that everyone has an appreciation for one another’s diversity, experiences, skill sets, backgrounds, cultures, and traditions. People demonstrate respect by listening and acknowledging each other's insights; demonstrating an understanding that stakeholders and customers will change their minds or change their direction based on customer feedback and market trends. Teams demonstrate respect by understanding each other’s accountabilities and being accountable for themselves.
If a team has been overburdened by process, why not refresh by going back to the basics? Look over the four value statements from the Agile manifesto. Scrum Teams should re-read the Scrum guide. Many people do not know it was updated as recently as 2020.
These values are the things teams commit to demonstrating every day. Many Agile teams leverage working agreements to align expectations of each other. However, when challenges arise, a working agreement can help us collectively move the team forward through the challenge. One approach we use for a working agreement is to articulate each of the five Scrum values and brainstorm how our team will live those values.
Events, delivery of an Increment to the Definition of Done, and general day-to-day interactions. We go through what it means to personally have Commitment, Courage, Respect, Focus, and Openness. What do we expect of others to live the values? When things happen to go wrong, how will we show up to listen, debate, re-focus, and garner alignment? Regardless of the approach to work, Agile, Scrum, or other processes, any team can benefit from these basic values. Having a discussion about what is important and the desired outcomes a team would like to achieve will help pave the way for richer collaboration.
And there's more to our 3-part series. In an extra-special part 4, we will discuss Lean, which is another value-based way of working that can elevate your ability to deliver valuable outcomes.