The Agile Principles These Companies Live By — And Why

by Alton Zenon III
December 6, 2019

The Agile Manifesto is based on 12 principles, but it’s hard to quantify how many ways tech teams can interpret and apply them. 

Industry, team size, customer base and a number of other variables play a role in determining which Agile principles make the most sense for your team to employ — and it’s OK if some of them just don't resonate at all. In our interviews with five Chicago team leads, they stressed the importance of giving teams the agency to do their best work and encouraging constant communication across departments. Here are the Agile principles that are hits (and misses) for these tech teams:

 

Gtreasury team in group photo
GTreasury

Creating working software and communication are key for developers at fintech company GTreasury, according to VP of Architecture Chih-Wei Tsai. While satisfying the customer is objective No. 1, Tsai said that’s made possible through gradual software delivery, supported by knowledge-sharing throughout the development process. 

 

Of the 12 principles in the Agile Manifesto, which ones are important to your team and why?

The seventh principle – which states that working software is the primary measure of progress – is particularly important to us. In order to continually provide our treasury management system for our customers, this seventh principle ensures that we’re always focused on delivering software solutions that do their job. 

We see this principle at work when we extend the core values of Agile to prioritize building working software over comprehensive documentation; we iterate through Agile processes in order to produce working software incrementally. In our view, adhering to this principle keeps us aligned in providing business value for our customers, which is our primary measure of success.

We iterate through Agile processes in order to produce working software incrementally.”

 

Which principles does your team intentionally overlook, and why?

I find that principle No. 11 — that the best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organizing teams — is the one that’s arguably the easiest to overlook.

The challenge with this principle is ensuring team members aren’t working in silos and are able to seamlessly push toward common goals. This includes working collaboratively by sharing ideas from the story refinement process through the delivery of high-quality software. It’s also very important that self-organizing teams have cross-functional interactions, which is sometimes easier said than done. 

To successfully apply this principle, team members must always be empowered to make decisions, take ownership and be responsive with other team members. While it shouldn’t be ignored, this is one of the more challenging Agile principles to put into consistent practice, in my opinion.

 

Milyli team working
Milyli

Director of Product Development Tim Randall said team members at Milyli value the level of agency that’s baked into the Agile Manifesto. 

The company’s name actually stands for “make it like you like”. Randall said small development teams employ critical thinking and ownership to build the e-discovery software. 

 

Of the 12 principles in the Agile Manifesto, which ones are important to your team and why?

I’ve always felt the most crucial principle in the Agile Manifesto is building projects around motivated individuals and giving them the tools and space they need to be successful. We often struggle to figure out the day-to-day processes from source control to ceremony. However, our team really enjoys these critical-thinking challenges of Agile.

We also use the phrase “everyone is an engineer” as a guiding principle. This idea empowers each team member to make decisions and promotes a self-starting, problem-solving culture. Each of us is responsible for the success of our projects and knows it, whether it’s a junior dev picking up a UI test or a test engineer tackling a feature bug.

 

Which principles does your team intentionally overlook, and why?

We do not technically practice the principle “the best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.” This is because our team is lean, so it’s rare that we are not all working on the same central challenges together.

That said, we also live up to our company acronym and have found ways of practicing a variation of this principle. Whenever someone needs more time to solve a problem subset, we break out into smaller, self-organized duos and trios to address those issues as “micro-groups” within the larger team.

 

Lumere team group photo
lumere

Lumere’s Director of Product Management Katie Moll said developers are given independence to tackle projects in an environment that promotes agency via direct support from leadership. This is important when the requirements of an assignment change.

 

Of the 12 principles in the Agile Manifesto, which ones are important to your team and why?

The principle “build projects around motivated individuals” holds great importance to us and influences how we prioritize the initiatives we tackle. We provide an environment where everyone has the opportunity to do their best work, and leadership prides itself on giving teams the support and trust they need to get the job done. Working with people that have a positive, encouraging attitude is contagious and sets us on a path to making successful software deliveries.

When our data visualization team is working with a new data set, they embrace changing requirements as they iterate on that data.”

 

Which principles does your team intentionally overlook, and why?

Some principles must take center-stage over others. For example, when we are formulating a new feature idea, we want to quickly get the team talking face-to-face to align on the value of addressing the business needs. When our data visualization team is working with a new data set, they embrace changing requirements as they iterate on that data.

In these instances, the principles of “welcome changing requirements” and “face-to-face conversations” take precedence over others.

 

Neighborhoods.com team in group photo
Neighborhoods.com

Software Engineer Noah Leapai said getting staff on the same page is an important part of the development cycle at Neighborhoods.com. Team members are trained on how to maximize the effectiveness of their communications with colleagues, which sometimes cannot occur in-person. 

 

Of the 12 principles in the Agile Manifesto, which ones are important to your team and why?

The most important principles to our team are the following: “business people and developers must work together,” “working software is the primary measure of progress” and “at regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective.”

These three principles give us the communication and relationships necessary to better understand our work. They also provide the metric by which we can measure the effectiveness of that communication and a process that allows us to continuously reflect and improve our organization. They have been powerful tools in helping us shape our team and are at the heart of our progress and success as a company. 

 

Which principles does your team intentionally overlook, and why?

While we agree with the statement, “the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation,” it’s not always possible for us due to busy schedules, timeline constraints or any number of other factors. 

Because of this, we’ve focused on establishing a culture of constructive peer review. We also get the most out of our asynchronous communication through coaching teams on how to extract and provide the most meaningful information in ways that are easily understood by all parties involved.

 

SPINS team in group photo
spins

Perteet Spencer, VP of consumer packaged goods and enterprise sales, discussed why devs at SPINS take the Agile principles surrounding communication seriously. Spencer said team members practice gathering and giving feedback in efforts to improve the product and their processes for building it.

 

Of the 12 principles in the Agile Manifesto, which ones are important to your team and why?

“Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.” We pride ourselves on being entrepreneurial. The vibe in the office is that of a startup, embracing change and allowing for individual decision-making and reduced red tape. 

The second principle, “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly” resonates with us. We believe the way we work is just as important as the products we create. 

To keep us aligned, we regularly check in with our teams from the top down to consider ways we can improve. We do this through our CEO’s monthly small-group breakfast chats, our twice-a-year performance feedback program and the quarterly all-hands meetings. Being collaborative and direct facilitates the ongoing sharing of candid, solutions-based feedback.

 

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