The Three Laws of Agile

Over the past 25-30 years, Agile methodology has completely changed how software development, IT and business teams operate. Agile is designed to help teams and organisations improve product development processes and manage the technological and organisational change that is becoming increasingly volatile, complex and fast-paced.

Businesses that are set in their ways, bogged down in bureaucracy and unwilling to evolve will struggle or be slow to adapt, losing their competitive edge, giving up ground to competitors and struggling to deliver what customers want. A Lean-Agile approach can change this, helping organisations to become more nimble, cope better with change, boost motivation and productivity and improve speed and quality to market.

But what is Agile and how does it work? Well, that’s not an easy question to answer. Agile is a global movement with over 40 different variants with more than 70 different practices that are constantly being adapted and expanded. However, while methodologies may change, there are three underlying principles (or “laws”) that make up the basis of an Agile mindset.

As the name suggests, Lean-Agile practices are nimble, flexible and designed to allow for ease of movement, change and adaptability. In contrast, laws are fixed and rigid, which may seem at odds with the Agile mindset. However, when examining organisations that have successfully embraced Lean-Agile principles, we notice three core characteristics that they all seem to have in common. And it’s these three characteristics that author Stephen Denning has dubbed the Three Laws of Agile.

So, let’s have a look at these three laws and how they can benefit an organisation or a project.

  1. The Law of the Small Team

For adherents to Agile principles, working in small teams is vital. Work should be done by small, self-managed, cross-functional or multidisciplinary teams working with autonomy. Work should be carried out in short cycles, or sprints, and focused on small tasks. Teams should be overseen by a leader and all members should be getting regular customer or end-user feedback. Since work is carried out in short cycles in an iterative fashion with ongoing user feedback, relevant and valuable changes can be integrated faster and with less disruption.

Communication should be ongoing, open and effortless across the team. Ideally, small teams should be able to think as one, and analyse, decide and act without interruption or impediment. Each team member should have a full understanding of and view across the tasks being worked on and complete autonomy to move it forward. There is no single, top-down view or control of the project and no siloed team members with individual responsibilities.

  1. The Law of the Customer

Agile organisations understand that customers or end users are faced with a wealth of choices. Therefore, to really appeal to a customer or user, the product has to seamlessly match with the customer’s preferences and solve their problems. An Agile team must be focussed (borderline obsessed) with creating advantages and delivering value to the end user.

In an Agile organisation, everything starts and ends with the customer. Teams must be externally focused with a clear line of sight directly to the end user. All work must be constantly examined to determine if it is adding value to the customer experience. If not, you must question why the work is being done at all. All factors of the organisation – goals, values, principles, processes, systems, practices, data structures, incentives – must be assessed to ensure they are outward looking, customer focused and delivering value to the customer first.

  1. The Law of the Network

In an Agile organisation, it’s not enough to just have high-performing product development teams operating under Agile principles. If an Agile team is still operating within a top-down bureaucratic organisation, this will weigh down or erode the success of the team.

The law of the network is focused on implementing Agile principles across an entire organisation, not just within small working teams. This is the hardest element of Agile methodology to implement, for obvious reasons. Traditional businesses are run from the top down with the assumption that general management expertise knows best, and that people should be siloed to minimise risk and increase focus.

However, a truly Agile organisation should consist of numerous small autonomous teams interacting to solve common problems all with the end focus on delivering value to the customer. Under this structure, the entire organisation should work as a network of high-performing teams driven by the same goal. It should be able to quickly grow, learn and adapt to take advantage of new opportunities, continuously add value for customers and deliver faster and better results with less work.

Transforming a traditional organisation into an Agile organisation, or even a traditional working team into an Agile team, is no simple task. However, when done properly, the rewards are many. Agile certification and Lean-Agile courses are the best ways to gain a full understanding of the processes and principles behind the Agile methodologies.

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Vijayan Seenisamy

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