Why Should I Memorize The 12 Agile Principles?

At our monthly meet up last week, the fine folks at DFW Scrum concocted a little rope-a-dope for yours truly. The title online simply read “Agile Jeopardy“, leading me to believe we were going to play a little game to test our knowledge of the framework. In the Trebek-led gameshow, answers are the questions and questions are the answers. I’m a quick study, and read everything in front of me regarding the industry, so I walked into the room confident of my victory. This was going to be easy.

Or so I thought.

My team ended up winning, but not because of me. I sat there on my hands for most of the evening.

As many people familiar with Agile practice, there were four main tenets of the framework written 13 years ago. They are not wordy, and simple in format. The questions regarding those items were fairly straightforward for us, and teams jumped all over them.

Tricky part of the Agile Manifesto is the four pillars are very broad and don’t really lead you down the whole path to implementation. In the writers’ wisdom, I’m sure this was by design. For further instruction, they penned 12 principles that gave leaders across the globe everything they would need.

Thing is, they are verbose and difficult to memorize. To be honest, I couldn’t even remember the last time I read them through. Some Agile leader I am.

I mentioned earlier that my team ended up winning. Reason for that is one of my carefully selected teammates took the time to memorize the principles (or at least enough to lead us to victory). Afterward, when everyone was sitting around conversing, I asked him why it was so important for him to know them off the top of his head. I know what they all refer to, and I have the Internet in my pocket, so in my mind I didn’t think it was an absolute necessity.

“At least one is quoted every day at work,” he said. “If I want someone to see me as an expert, and follow my advice, I need to state where I got my ideas from.”

That concept rings true, regardless of your industry. Agile has so little core documentation — for a reason. You can choose to implement the ideas in whatever way make sense to your organization, but you can’t ignore the manifesto and principles. So often I hear people use the phrase, “that’s not Agile,” when condemning an idea. It’s annoying to me, but now that I see the principles in a new light I can see why someone would say that.

That same week, I stood before my fellow PMs at Bottle Rocket and admitted to them I had let them down. If I was going to continue to help lead the Agile transformation here, I needed to do a better job of reminding everyone why we do what we do. Because I don’t use the principles very often, neither do they.

That will change, and soon.

When you have a chance, read through them again. Ask yourself if you know what they refer to, and if you feel this principle is adhered to where you work. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we do them well every day, but identifying and admitting shortcomings is the first step to improvement. Make a list of principles that need to be implemented better, and how this would happen.

Just like being able to quote the manifesto in a meeting, you have to do the work to transform your organization. Imagine being told, “give me the three things we need to do right now to be a more Agile organization.”  As terrifying as that proposition is, more and more of us are being asked to lead the way. If you don’t have those items ready, and the reasons why, you won’t be taken seriously the next time.

This is where I need the most work. I love improving with co-workers and thinking on my feet. If I only prepared a little more and documented my ideas for the company, I could at least propose how we can take it to the next level here. So, I’m going to start prioritizing my list of ideas. You should have yours too.

Call it your “transformation backlog”. I have your first user story:

As an Agile leader, I must identify the principles that are poorly adhered to so that I can suggest new practices.


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