Agile as an Aspect or Container of Good Practices? – A Design Invitation

As Agile coaching and conferences continue on many years after the Agile Manifesto was crafted, more & more topics & practices are proposed for addition to the definition of Agile. Most are darn good & interesting topics that help people better develop products & services. That’s good — I want to read about them, attend all the workshops, and use them.

But, I also wonder if we should add them to the definition of Agile, as if Agile is a container for all things good. Or instead, should we treat those additional things as separate independent aspects that can be mixed and matched as deemed useful? Maybe we should even keep Agile mostly focused on the key aspect of lowering the cost of change, and think of it as working in harmony/synergy with other aspects of Lean, Design Thinking, Lean Startup, empathy, safety, flow, etc. Agile can then settle into being an important part of the bigger goal of value creation, and rejoice in the ever-growing number of synergistic associates.

It’s kind of a design and naming question. Should Agile keep growing its list of responsibilities, or stay focused on one responsibility among many useful other aspects in a bigger program of independent objects? For the programmers among us, Agile could be considered a god class with lots of responsibilities, and people want to add in more responsibilities. But that doesn’t seem aligned with the Single Responsibility principle (only one reason to change) or the Open-Closed principle (open for extension but closed for modification), etc. Maybe that’s OK for now. Agile is young. Product & service development is even young, in the grand scheme of things.

As a thought experiment, let’s look ahead some years. The definition of Agile could keep on growing to include neuroscience, game theory, mob programming, Non-Violent Communication (NVC), kindness, empathy, awareness, mindfulness, meditation, creativity, Design Thinking, Lean Startup, systems thinking, Lean, diversity, on-site food and games, exercise, music, play, etc. etc. It would likely be hard to agree on the definition, and checklists, and it would keep changing (v1, v2, v3, …).

Or, we can say, “Yes, and…”

We can embrace those things as good things, good ingredients in our recipe for developing products & services, without calling those new things as part of Agile — old, new, or newer.

It feels like some broader name will emerge as a holder for good things in the development of products & services, e.g. Value Development, Value Creation, Value Amplification, …

Or, maybe all good ideas simply become part of the way people build products & services, and the conversations turn more & more to what is worth building on this small blue ball in space. I look forward to more of those conversations.

There is some underlying essence or spirit in the Agile community that transcends debates on practices. I hold out hope for this spirit and simple values & principles. I’m less concerned about the names we use.

For now, what do you think? Should we keep adding to the Agile definition, or start teasing apart the good ideas into independent aspects that can be mixed and matched?

Assumptions Mapping — How to get started with Assumptions Mapping by David Bland of PRECOIL

Assumption mapping helps you prioritize & focus on what assumptions to test/validate next. i.e. What to learn next, in the sense of Lean Startup’s
“Build, Measure, Learn” cycle. As David Bland points out, it’s even better if thought of in reverse. What do we need to learn next? What do we need to measure to learn it? What do we need to build to measure it?

Video tutorial:

Innovation Trends to Befriend — Empathy, Safety, Culture, and Invitation

How can we all get better at innovation in a hurry? I attended a bunch of conferences and workshops this last year on Agile, Lean Startup, Design Thinking, etc., and noticed some simple powerful trends in the conversations. You’ve likely already heard of these trends. What is new is their rapidly growing support from diverse communities, singing the same tune.

Empathy – Talk to Real Customers

Really talk (and listen) directly to users, early & often. This is the chorus coming from Design Thinking, Lean Startup, Lean UX, and Agile thought leaders. It pulls from “human-centered design” or “human-centered innovation.” Why aren’t we doing it more? It does take time and humility. As a start, we can rely less on intermediaries and intermediary means (e.g. “user stories”), and “voice of the customer” initiatives, and get the makers actually hearing real stories from real users. We can embrace the proven insights of Design Thinking’s focus on developing user empathy & understanding, through direct interviews and iterative prototyping. We can use the insights from Lean Startup to validate that we’re building the right things, with the right business model.

Psychological Safety

If we can reduce the fear of judgment, creativity will happen naturally, as practiced by David Kelley and the Stanford Design School team (Famous for Design Thinking). Google studied the attributes of their effective teams and found that “psychological safety” is the most important attribute by far. Wow. Let that sink in. It wasn’t skills. It wasn’t tools. It was “psychological safety.” Agilist Joshua Kerievsky has been promoting broad safety for numerous years. In James Tamm’s book Radical Collaboration Tamm finds that we will not get collaborative behavior into all our organizations unless we reduce the fear, blame, etc. that inhibit collaboration.

Create a Culture Where Innovation is Inevitable

Peter Drucker is often credited with saying, “Culture eats process for breakfast.” Master gardeners stop focusing on feeding specific plants and instead focus on “feeding the soil,” knowing that the soil will support the plants. They experiment. They learn. We can do that in organizations, by encouraging experimentation, collaboration, and learning. Management’s job can move away from selecting & managing projects, and towards creating environments & cultures that create great products & services.

“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” ― Robert Henri.

Invitation Over Policing

Policing people & processes seldom produces the best results. There is a growing move towards inviting people voluntarily into change initiatives and give them lots choices. One of the key Agile values from the Agile Manifesto is Individuals & Interactions over Processes & Tools. Self-organization can start early, and grow deep & wide. Fredric Laloux’s book Reinventing Organizations contains beautiful examples of companies that have embraced this and produced amazing results.

The good news and bad news is that these are largely issues of mindset, choice, and emphasis. We could change fast, if the conditions and motivations are right. Other teams may need to be rebuilt.

While big organizational change would dramatic, I believe we can all innovate more now by getting to know our users, reducing fear, creating a culture of experimentation, and giving people choices.

I would be happy to discuss these topics further.

Kelley Harris


References To Dig Deeper

Design Thinking:

How to Build Creative Confidence, by David Kelley, TED Talk

Stanford Design School (aka


Lean Startup:

 “The Lean Startup: Innovation Through Experimentation. …” , by Eric Ries

The Lean Startup

Lean Startup Conference Talks, see Videos on YouTube


The five keys to a successful Google team

Reinventing Organizations, by Frederic Laloux

Radical Collaboration, by James Tamm

PwC Global Innovation Survey

Communication frameworks

Non-Violent Communication (NVC)

Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC)

Crystal Balls – Any Predictions for the Year Ahead?

Step right up and tell us your predictions for the year ahead, in the comments section below. This is your chance to show off your prediction skills, or at least practice them. It’s only a year, how far off could you get? If you prove to be good at it, you’ll have more influence. And that’s gotta make planning and budgeting more convenient.

Get it right, and win bragging rights. Get it wrong, and well, the Internet will remind you.

To help inspire you, here are some predictions from previous years:

2006: “Everyone’s always asking me when Apple will come out with a cell phone. My answer is, ‘Probably never.’” — David Pogue, The New York Times.

2007: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” — Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO.


Your turn. Leave your prediction(s) in the comments below.

Want Great Teams? Ask Them What it Means


For the last 50+ weeks, I’ve asked different Agile classes & teams to describe their favorite project or team, and then list the attributes that make that project or team great or their favorite. People describe sports teams, music groups, work teams, and more. I’m so tempted to give you the stats, list the attributes, or a histogram. But it strikes me that the stats really don’t matter for your specific team, any more that what the average person likes to eat. What would likely help more is for your team to tell each other stories of their favorite teams, and then them nurture those attributes: step-by-step, with reflection and laughter.

(FYI, in those 50+ summaries, I have never once heard someone credit great “processes and tools.”)

Agile Manifesto per Yoda, Help You Will

The Agile Manifesto accessible to new generations of Yodish speakers, let’s make. Suggested improvement comments welcome, they are.


Agile Manifesto (Yodish, draft 1, 2015)

Uncovering better ways of developing software, we are.
By doing it and helping others do.

Through this work, come to value, have we,
Over processes and tools, individuals and interactions.
Over comprehensive documentation, working software.
Over contract negotiation, customer collaboration.
Over following a plan, change, responding to.

While value in the items on left, there is,
items on the right more, we value.

Follow these principles, we do:

To satisfy the customer, through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software, our highest priority is.

Changing requirements, even late in development, we welcome.
Change, for the customer’s competitive advantage, agile processes harness.

Working software frequently, from a couple weeks to a couple of months, we deliver.
The shorter timescale prefer.

Daily throughout the project, must together,
business people and developers work.

Around motivated individuals, projects we build.
Support they need, the environment, give them.
To get the job done, we trust.

Conveying information, to and within a development team,
the most efficient and effective method,
face-to-face conversation is.

The primary measure of progress, working software is.

Sustainable development, Agile processes promote.
Be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely, the sponsors, developers, and users should.

To technical excellence, continuous attention pay.
Agility, good design enhances.

The art of maximizing the amount of work not done,
essential, simplicity is.

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

At regular intervals, on how to become more effective, the team reflects.
Behavior then, it tunes and adjusts.

Let’s Explore Agile Topics Together. Topics and Questions Welcome.

Agile Dialog blog is a place for conversations. More dialogs than monologue. You topics and questions are welcome.  Fair game to talk about Agile, Lean, Scrum, Lean Startup, Design Thinking, Reinventing Organizations, and related topics.

If the topic has been started yet, feel free to post it as a comment, and we’ll get topic started as a new post.