Back to Basics Series – Principle 1

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

What Does It Mean?

There are many interpretations of this principle, but this one is mine. Honestly, I’m not looking to make any ground-breaking revelations here. I’m looking to break it down to get back to basics. It means what it means. In the software world, the path to customer satisfaction should be delivering early and often, but things are not always that black and white. Let’s take an expository approach in evaluating this, the first agile value.

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer.

This principle says that we will satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. However, I think there’s a reason why the group at Snowbird listed customer satisfaction first. Without customer satisfaction, we have no business. Bottom line. According to the great (or not-so-great) collective that is Wikipedia, customer satisfaction “is a measure of how products and services supplied by a company meet or surpass customer expectation.” Whether or not the software you and your team work on is customer-facing, ultimately everything we build has an end-user. If that end-user is not satisfied (that’s a whole other blog topic), then we need to go back to the drawing board to make sure s/he is. Customer satisfaction is why we do what we do, and their continued satisfaction keeps the lights on.

Early & Continuous Delivery

I actually dreaded writing this entry because I’m currently stuck in quarterly release hell. My present reality provides no fabulous insights or special instructions to get your company (or mine, for that matter) releasing early or often.

But what does it mean? At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, delivering software early and often is just that. A better question is why should we do it? The sooner we deliver working software to our customers, then the sooner we get feedback. We can then inspect and adapt that feedback to better form what’s in our hopper (roadmap, battle plan, whatever you want to call it). We do this to keep our customers happy, so they continue to pay us, so we continue to stay in business. Yes? Yes. If we do this in regular, short cycles, then we’ll hopefully align ourselves with ever-fluctuating market demands. This actually points back to the “customer satisfaction” part of this principle.

Valuable Software

The final part of this principle is valuable software. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of valuable is having desirable or esteemed characteristics or qualities OR is of great use or service. Google “valuable software” and a myriad of articles pop up on what actually constitutes value. Quality is obviously a factor (but that’s also listed in a later Agile Principle; we’ll cover that), but ultimately, the team needs to determine what is valuable to the customer. That could mean anything from an intuitive user interface to speedy access to data. If the customer finds no value in what you’ve delivered, then what’s the point? This part, too, points back to the “customer satisfaction” part of this principle.

Customer Satisfaction is Key

To wrap it up, customer satisfaction is the key. Early and continuous delivery provides the feedback loop that keeps us informed, and delivering valuable software keeps our customers happy.


Back to Basics – Overview

About a year ago, Atlassian took to Twitter with their #RetroOnAgile campaign and asked followers to tweet something they liked and something they wished about agile. Under my @MomofXandM handle, I tweeted the following responses: “#ILike the Agile principles and values. #RetroOnAgile” and “#IWish more folks followed the Agile principles and values rather than trying to hammer away on process and methodology. #RetroOnAgile

I still like the agile principles and values, and I still wish more folks would stick to the basics outlined in them. Instead, command-and-control runs rampant in Corporate America, and now more than ever we all seem beholden to process and methodology.

What should we do about this? As ScrumMasters it’s our job to coach our team to better practices, so I think a return to the basics might be well-warranted. I am therefore setting out to do a series of posts focusing on agile principles and values, so that I can re-center myself and my teams on the simplicity that matters. Let’s start with an overview.

Many know the story behind the Agile Manifesto. 17 developers met at a ski lodge in Utah to discuss the way software development seemed to be going at that time. They weren’t happy with the hyper focus on processes, tools, reems of documentation, and constant contract negotiation, so they penned the manifesto.

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.  Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

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

There were 12 principles behind the manifesto. These coupled with the manifesto birthed the Agile movement. There were plenty of forerunners, but these are the principles the Agile community points back to regularly. Some even treat these words like gospel.

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

In the coming weeks, I’ll explore each principle and value in more depth. I welcome feedback and conversation, and it’s my hope that you take these discussions back to your teams.