Is There a Flaw, a Discrepancy, in the Agile Manifesto?

September 21, 2020
7 minute read

Recently, Mishkin Berteig recounted that one individual attending a Scrum training class with him argued that there is a misalignment, a discrepancy, in the Agile Manifesto  between these two statements:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” (1st Value), versus Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software” (1st Principle).

This left me pondering the difference between a value and a principle. My dictionary tells me that value refers to the worth, usefulness or importance of a thing.

A principle is a fundamental truth or law as the basis of reasoning or action.

Therefore, although they seem to be related, the idea of value is something that is held dear, while a principle is something one uses to reason and act from. Perhaps one can say the former is subjective and the latter is objective.

The first value,individuals and interactions over processes and tools” means, to me, that all individuals, employees and customers alike, are valued more than processes and tools. The manifesto makes it clear that “processes and tools” are still important, but not as important as individuals and interactions: That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Comparing this value with the first principle of Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer…” does not appear to be a contradiction – in fact, I believe they work hand in hand; they are “both, and.” Here’s why.

When a company values its interactions and individuals, employees will likely create products most satisfactory to their customers. Happiness and satisfaction are infectious. The principle of “early and continuous delivery of valuable software” becomes possible because both employees and customers are valued.

In another part of the online Agile Manifesto, one can read an essay on its history written by Jim Highsmith, one of the signatories to the Manifesto. For me this brief paragraph from that essay encompasses both the value and the principle in question:

At the core, I believe Agile Methodologists are really about “mushy” stuff—about delivering good products to customers by operating in an environment that does more than talk about “people as our most important asset” but actually “acts” as if people were the most important, and lose the word “asset”. So in the final analysis, the meteoric rise of interest in—and sometimes tremendous criticism of—Agile Methodologies is about the mushy stuff of values and culture.”

History of The Agile Manifesto


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