Agile Values and Organizational Transformation

The Agile Manifesto was developed in February 2001 by seventeen people who met to find commonalities between several ‘lightweight’ methods that emerged in the 1990s. Representatives from Extreme Programming, Scrum, DSDM, Adaptive Software Development, Crystal, Feature-Driven Development, and Pragmatic Programming along with many others were able to agree on a core set of values.[1]

The values expressed in the Manifesto center on people and their interactions within the limiting context of the work environment. This does not mean that the values cannot be applied in other contexts such as the home or school, but it does mean that when speaking of Agile values, frameworks, and tools, we are generally speaking of work environments.

Agile is moving from the software industry, where it got its start, to major corporations providing all manner of goods and services. This shift is partly being fueled by articles in media such as the Wall Street Journal and CIO Journal.[2] Agile is the next big thing (NBT) and is touted as providing that silver bullet of delivering goods and services at the ‘faster, better, cheaper’ pace which seems to be the holy grail of business.


The crux of this article is that Agile is not a process or set of tools to accomplish the goals of business when those goals are limited to mere profit; it is rather a set of values that move us from primarily valuing the work product to valuing the work producer, the person. This may or may not produce improved profit margins. What has been demonstrated is that it does in many cases produce higher quality goods, happier, more fulfilled people producing those goods, and a better business context within which to work.

It is important to understand the fundamental shift in value perspective that Agile recommends to businesses. Process frameworks like Scrum, Extreme Programing and Crystal have been demonstrated to be successful as the Agile values which they promote are understood and incorporated into the business ethos.[3]

If the business attempts to apply one or more of the Agile process frameworks without understanding the need to incorporate the Agile values, the desired organizational change with the anticipated benefits of ‘faster, better, cheaper’ will tend to be minimal. This is due to the dependence of the processes on the values. How can we help businesses with this significant paradigm shift in their thinking? The following suggestions help smooth the way for businesses to move toward incorporating Agile values and processes into their environment:

  • Involve all levels of the business, including top level ‘C’ executives. Their sponsorship and support will be important.
  • Don’t neglect mid-level management as their support is vital to the success of the transformation.
  • Answer the question, “Why move to Agile?” This is important, as the reasons for attempting such a fundamental change should be well understood from both a quantitative as well as qualitative standpoint.
  • Understand the current business culture. Change is hard and there will be champions as well as potential saboteurs of the changes to come.
  • Spend time on the organizational structure to understand how it helps or hinders the move to Agile.
  • Create a roadmap with the explicit understanding that it will change over time.
  • Don’t attempt to change everything. Pick an area where a win will be evident and beneficial.

[2]WSJ, CIO Journal  

[3] Rally Software’s Measuring Agile Success