A Framework of Principles

In my recent Core Values post I call attention to a set of values, with the phrase Each of these values begins within self, and can be lived independently of the reactions of others.”  The Values foundation is concerned with a way of being that is personal to each one of us. This is not to say that we all need the same way of being—that’d be horrible! The values will play out in differing degrees in different people, and are by no means the only values each of us would chose to live by. I call out the five values of courage, trust, congruency, humility, and service in particular as I believe they really do help to form a foundation for change if each of us pays attention to them.

The key thing about a values foundation is that it is personal “…and can be lived independently of the reactions of others.”  Which is fine, except that we don’t live and work in isolation, and we need to interact in healthy ways with those around us. This is where shared principles are useful. While values represent Be, and practices represent Do, I see a framework of principles as holding that space in between being and doing. I don’t have a word for this representation, but it is something like Awaken or Express. Principles give us a common language, a base from which to explore, and a boundary for us to be constrained by.

In my experience of facilitating and guiding Agile change I have found the five principles described here to be a good way to start the process of shifting from left-brain to right-brain thinking—to develop the Agile mind-opening*.

  1. Purpose — start by knowing why; care about what you are doing
  2. Focus — set priorities, minimize the amount of work in progress, reduce context switching, seek completion
  3. Release — allow teams to occur, and solutions to emerge; let go of control 
  4. Alignment — reflect, reconceive, adjust, and revise in concert with all parties 
  5. Rhythm — allow a regular heartbeat to emerge; flow follows cadence

This set of principles is the latest riff on earlier thoughts, posted as Dogma-free Scrum, The Soul of Scrum, and The Why of Scrum. I believe this set to be more suggestive, and less prescriptive, for example having “self-organization” as a principle often leads to the contradictory question “how can I make my teams self-organize?” Release, on the other hand, allows self-organization as an emergent possibility.

For new Agile transformations there is a flow through these five principles from organization (purpose, focus), through group (focus, release, alignment), to team (alignment, rhythm). In more seasoned organizations the set will be embraced holistically, in all areas of the business.

These five principles work in accord with each other to create the environment we think of as “Agile”. The combination of focus, alignment and rhythm gives us the empirical process; release accentuates the value of trust, promotes low-level decision making, and creates the environment for emergent self-organization; focus allows a reduction in waste; rhythm ensures regular delivery, and provides the mechanism for quickly surfacing organizational dysfunction; and purpose coupled with release offers the possibility of true engagement. 

You may find, as others have, that this set of principles can act as a check list for retrospectives, and help teams determine the next increment of improvement. I’ve found that almost all the “How do we…” questions can be answered by looking at this set of principles, and seeing where we are failing to embrace them. These principles are the foundation for a strong Agile implementation.

* I have previously used the term “Agile mindset” to describe the shift from a traditional way of thinking. But the last thing we want in Agile is a set mind. We need curious, exploratory, ever-changing minds, hence “Agile mind-opening”.

Related posts: Core ValuesMeta-practices for Agility.