“What” is Agile?

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

That’s the manifesto. An agile organization recognizes and values these basic principles.

The use of the word over is intentional and deliberate. It doesn’t say instead of or not. The stuff on the right is important, but the stuff on the left is more important. The recognition of this preference is the quintessential definition of agile.

What’s also intentional is the absence of instruction and ceremony. Nowhere in the manifesto, for example, does it say that in order to produce working software, you must have a daily scrum. Scrum is merely an inconsequential process. A person doesn’t become a master carpenter by simply clutching a hammer, and neither is a team agile if it adopts scrum (or any other software development process or tool).

Put differently, the manifesto doesn’t pontificate on the how — there’s nothing imperative about agile. There’s a clear separation of concerns: the manifesto declares the what, and the team implements the how.

When the how satisfies the what, the team is an agile one. The manifesto is not a list of instructions; it’s the acceptance criteria.


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