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7 Experts Discuss the Agile Principles (With Examples)

The Agile Manifesto includes 12 principles that support and shape the way teams deliver projects. But what do those principles mean in real life? How do agile practitioners use them in their daily work to shape their projects and deliverables?

In this article, you’ll gain a better understanding of the agile principles which will support your preparation for your certification exam. You’ll learn what the agile principles mean to many practitioners, from PMI-ACP certified professionals to world-renowned experts.

You’ll also learn exactly how to put each principle into practice and demonstrate it in your projects.

Ready to find out how to turn those principle statements into something you and your team can live by? Let’s recap the principles first.

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

Principle #1

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software

“Value-driven delivery is about delivering the highest-value portions of the project as early as possible,” said Jeff Furman, PMI-ACP, PMP. When you prioritize customer satisfaction and regular releases, customers benefit from having access to the features that matter most to them without having to wait until the project ends.

This generates stakeholder engagement and support for the next phases of the project. “At the heart of this is the ability for the team to provide incremental delivery, where working features are delivered to the customer one set at a time,” added Jeff.

This is the first of the 12 agile principles and is about making sure that customers get something useful out of the project effort on a regular basis. They shouldn’t have to wait until the end to receive any deliverables of value. Portioning up the work ensures continuous delivery and providing regular ‘value drops’ to the customer.

How you can demonstrate this principle

  • Have short development cycles so there are regular opportunities to release deliverables
  • Make sure that the customer is involved in the development process so they can determine what ‘value’ means to them
  • Always bring conversations back to value: does the customer really want this?

Principle #2

Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage

“Don't be afraid of changes,” said Cornelius Fichtner, CSM, and the Founder and President of the company behind the PMI-ACP exam simulator. “You still need to follow a change control process, but you can incorporate changes more easily than on a 'traditional' project because changes are always a trade-off.”

An agile methodology makes it easy to pivot the project for competitive advantage. If you want to add in functionality that will take 2 days to build, you must take out 2 days of other work, normally a lower priority requirement. You can always hit the deadline if you work like this, even though the scope may change from week to week (or more frequently).

How you can demonstrate this principle

  • Balance any new requests with removing other non-mandatory requirements so that you can always meet the original timescale.
  • Work with your end users to prioritize requirements, and don't worry if these priorities change from week to week.
  • Make your plans to launch your deliverables on a certain date. If everyone knows what day they are working to, it keeps the team focused on hitting the deadlines. And a fixed date means it is easy to plan a celebration in advance!

Principle #3

Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

“In my work, this principle applies to several areas,” says Stas Podoxin, PMP, PMI-ACP, who is part of the team behind the PM Exam Simulator.

“The software for our exam simulator is developed by an external vendor. We noticed that the longer it takes for the vendor to develop the full-functioning new feature, the more bugs are detected during our tests and the way the final feature is implemented is not really how we envisioned it.” Stas explains that with shorter cycles of 2-3 weeks instead of a couple of months, bugs can be picked up earlier in the process. “It reduces the cost of rework,” he says.

The idea behind this principle is that shorter timescales enable you to see progress and check it’s on track, so you can course-correct if things aren’t working the way you expected.

How you can demonstrate this principle

  • Plan for short iterations.
  • Work with the team to establish what features are going to be developed in each iteration so that working features are regularly released.
  • Remember that this principle doesn’t just relate to agile software development! You can apply it to anything you are working on.

Principle #4

Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

Having the users involved also reduces the reliance on detailed requirements documentation,” says Cornelius Fichtner, CSM. “The trouble with most documentation is that it is rarely up-to-date, especially in a fast-moving environment. Working directly with those people who will be using the software means that as their understanding of what they need grows, the team can include the new requirements, or tweak existing ones, so that the end result is exactly what the users need. This can make the end product much more intuitive to use. In other words, the final software works in reality, not just in a document or prototype form!”

The idea behind this principle is that the project team should involve hands-on expertise from the people who are going to use the end result: the customer or client. It’s not appropriate for the customer to set requirements at the beginning of the project, walk away and then come back months later to review the end result. You’ll get better results if the client is fully involved every step of the way.

How you can demonstrate this principle

  • Make sure your users are onboard before the project starts, so they are with you right from the beginning.
  • If you can’t get end users to join the project management team, for example, if they are members of the public, have someone on the team who can represent them.
  • While it is not always possible, it is a good idea to have your development team and the users all based in the same location, so it is easy for them to interact.
  • If you can't do this, try to make sure that you have access to some collaboration tools in the form of software or processes, so that you can at least communicate and work together in real time, even if you aren't in the same room.

Principle #5

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

Agile environments are founded on a basis of trusted, professional working relationships. People are treated as valued contributors and trust is assumed. That helps you create an environment for success, using processes that work for your setting.

“The value of having a principle-based process is that you can apply the principles for an individualized process for your situation and, as an extra bonus, one that has been designed to adapt from your learning as you adopt changes into your organization,” said Kent Beck, one of the Agile Manifesto signatories, in an interview.

Develop processes, culture, project management approaches and ways of working that build motivation in the team instead of draining their energy.

How you can demonstrate this principle

  • Regularly discuss with the team how the environment is working out for them.
  • Create regular check ins to take the temperature of the team and ensure motivation levels are where you want them to be.
  • Don’t be afraid to change things if the process isn’t working as effectively as it could. Listen out for grumbles and feedback and adapt as necessary.
  • Don’t micromanage individuals and trust them to get on with the relevant work.

Principle #6

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

“The interaction from face-to-face conversations has been so valuable for the development teams I have worked with,” said Yazmine Darcy, PMI-ACP, PMP, “especially when we have to work through issues, develop requirements and propose solutions. I find that there is more engagement in the back and forth conversation, you can do things like draw on a whiteboard, and overall be better assured that everyone is focused on the discussion.”

Yazmine added that you can pick up non verbal cues and body language as well. “You can better gauge how well the interaction is going,” she said.

While we recognize that face-to-face in person isn’t always possible, video conferencing and online tools come a close second.

How you can demonstrate this principle

  • Meet face-to-face daily, even if you have to do that online.
  • Have a brief agenda for your daily meetings but be prepared to flex depending on the important topics of the day.
  • Practice the art of keeping updates short! Challenge yourself to communicate effectively every time.

Principle #7

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

Progress is defined by the output: not how many hours are worked or whether something on an arbitrary list was ticked off. One of the ways to focus the team to concentrate on delivering a working product is to constantly bring the conversation back to value.

“One of the things traditional approaches assume is that you’re successful if you’ve delivered all of the scope in whatever you’ve defined,” said Jim Highsmith, one of the Agile Manifesto signatories, in an interview. “There have been studies that say that 60% of all software developed is rarely or never used. So the measure really needs to be, “Have I delivered value to the customer today?” not “Have I delivered everything in scope?” Then you might ask the question, “What offers value now?” Then you can grow that value over time.”

This agile principle is about making sure that customers and the team pay attention to the things that matter most.

“[T]he Lean idea of doing more with less, combined with an Agile approach, really produces more meaningful results,” Highsmith added.

How you can demonstrate this principle

  • Measure what matters: a working product is a better measure of success than a neatly organized electronic folder of forgotten project documents.
  • Make sure you know what ‘value’ means to the customer. If you can’t explain it, ask them to talk you through what they consider to be important.
  • Working’ doesn’t mean 100% perfect. It just has to work. Ship the first iteration and improve from there.

Principle #8

Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Sustainable development means being able to pace the work so that the team can work at a constant pace.

Stas Podoxin, PMP, PMI-ACP, works at our company leading on the development of the PM Exam Simulator. He lives this principle daily as the team uses agile methodologies to ensure continuous development. He gives this example.

“As we constantly update our existing questions and write new ones, having a sustainable pace provides us with a well-lubricated engine that produces and updates a consistent number of questions per day, week or month,” Stas says. “At times, we may need to increase our capacity and work overtime. But, to develop high-quality questions on an indefinite basis takes concentration, and we need to keep a reasonable pace and realistic deadlines. You need a brain that is not overwhelmed by unachievable deadlines,” he adds.

How you can demonstrate this principle

  • Track the team’s velocity so you can measure progress in a repeatable way.
  • If you are working on multiple projects, plan the development so you avoid having too many iterations finish on the same date. Pace yourself across projects as well as within one project.
  • Watch out for burnout and ensure work is evenly distributed throughout the team.

Principle #9

Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

“Technical excellence helps the self-organized agile team to focus on the best approach to create value for their clients,” said Herbert Gonder, PMI-ACP, PMP.

The more you can focus on what the client or end customer wants, the easier it is to create a solution that best serves them. You’ll be building a solution to the best possible design and that’s going to give you an outcome that leads with value.

How you can demonstrate this principle

  • Put design at the heart of what you do: cultivate a mindset that puts technical excellence top of the agenda.
  • Expect quality as standard, and incorporate ways of measuring quality to ensure the end result is fit for purpose.
  • Pay attention to the details and get customers involved in tests and reviews. They will pick up on aspects you perhaps haven’t yet considered.

Principle #10

Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential.

“Traditional planning tends to be task or activity based,” said Jim Highsmith. “In Agile planning, you are doing a product breakdown. So you’re tracking pieces of the product that have value to the customer versus activities where their value is less clear.”

Think about what you can stop doing so that you can maximize your time doing the right things.

How you can demonstrate this principle

  • Focus on keeping it small. If this iteration of the product only takes a week to produce, that's great.
  • Don't overload your release with loads of features so that it takes a long time to develop before you get something you can test.
  • Review processes regularly and see if you can do the same work but with fewer steps. For example, it might be possible to streamline handoffs between team members.

Principle #11

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

“Successful self-organizing teams take responsibility for finding the most effective and efficient ways to do their work,” said Yazmine Darcy, PMI-ACP, PMP. “They strive to continuously learn and improve and grow. Their sense of ownership and commitment, ability to work well together as a team allows for them to execute and deliver excellence, whether that’s in the requirements they gather or design and architecture they implement.”

Consider whether your team is truly self-organizing and what you can do to sustain that.

How you can demonstrate this principle

  • Treat everyone on the team equally.
  • Allow people to use their expert-level knowledge. They should feel comfortable disagreeing or putting forward an alternative viewpoint.
  • Look at how decisions are made and ensure all voices are heard.

Principle #12

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

There are agile ceremonies that are designed to help teams adjust behavior to continue to work in the most optimal way, and this principle is all about making sure you do that regularly.

“The ‘regular intervals’ should match with the retrospective meetings held by agile teams at certain moments in the project,” said Herbert Gonder, PMI-ACP, PMP. “These allow the team to talk about things which worked well and less well, and reflect about possible improvements.”

How you can demonstrate this principle

  • Set up retrospective meetings
  • Create a cadence of review in the team, where the expectation is that you’ll look at what’s happened and consider how it could be further tweaked and improved going forward.
  • Make sure you act on those discussions! It’s one thing to have a meeting about what you’d like to see working differently in the future; it’s another thing entirely to make the changes.

The 12 Agile Principles are something you’ll definitely need to know for the PMI-ACP exam. There are lots of other topics tested in the exam as well, and you can review the PMI-ACP exam outline to check out the domains that are covered.

When you’re ready to start your exam prep, one of the top things our students say helped them achieve agile certification is practicing with an agile exam simulator. Make sure you carve out some time to test yourself in a realistic environment and answer questions about these principles and the other topics you’ll face on your exam day.

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