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The Ultimate Guide To Agile Working & Why Agility Really Matters

02. The Agile Manifesto

Agile manifesto history

Back in the 1990’s the time lag between business requirements and the delivery of software was causing huge amounts of frustration. There had to be a better way of managing a project that approaches like Waterfall because changing requirements during the project was normal and actually reasonable, and not adapting to change was frustrating for everyone. What’s more, these ways of working did not take advantage of how quickly software could be actually be changed.

So in 2000, Jon Kern, Kent Beck, Ward Cunningham, Arie van Bennekum, and Alistair Cockburn and others, started to write the Agile Manifesto and the Twelve Principles that support them.

  • Individuals and interactions over process and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiations
  • 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.”

Agile methodologies apply to more than software teams. In order to make agile work universally it is useful to look at general principles that have built up around agile working practices.


Agile principles made universal

When you look at the publishes articles on the founding 12 agile principles there is a theme that runs through them, which when to remove the software engineering terminology would reveal the following:

The highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery

Customer value creation is the measure of success e.g. software creation

The business / customer is represented in agile teams and is continuously present during a project

To maximise value, agile teams welcome change, even late in the work cycle

Agile teams are teams of empowered and motivated people

Agile teams deliver value frequently

Agile teams have the tools and environment they need to succeed

Agile teams prize effective communication

Agile working is indefinitely sustainable

At regular intervals an agile team reflects on how to become more effective, learns and adjusts accordingly


Lean software development and mindsets

An overlapping and complementary set of principles to the agile manifesto and principles can be found in Poppendiecks lean software development principles. These are:

  1. Eliminate waste
  2. Amplify learning
  3. Decide as late as possible
  4. Deliver as fast as possible
  5. Empower the team
  6. Build integrity in
  7. See the whole

In the book Lean Mindset, Mary and Tom Poppendiecks outline what every business needs to focus to delight customers with great products. They are:

Know the purpose of your business

You need to know what business you are in and have a deep understanding of the customer you serve. You then need to satisfy those customers’ needs, the needs they really value.

Energized your workers

People are the engine room of a company and by giving employees a higher purpose, and by challenging and developing them, you will be helping employees reach their full potential.

Delighted your customers

Solve the right problems and delight customers with great user experience. This means having a deep understanding of now just what they have asked for, but what they need based on the problems being faced that need to be solved.

Efficiency everywhere

Empower your team, focus on value, productivity and eliminate waste by using agile techniques such like continuous delivery.


Disrupt or be disrupted. The pace of change and the vulnerability of organizations to being out innovated by faster moving, more agile and innovative competitors is real for most companies, so there’s a need to act accordingly.

All of this will be very familiar to technology companies that have been adopting this way of working from start-up to scale-up and then enterprise or even unicorn.


OKRs best-practices and agile principles are very similar

Agile methodologies create the structure, systems and processes to deliver work. What guides that work is often a goal with a common goal methodology used by agile teams being the OKR – Objective and Key Results.

OKRs describe the future measurable end-states that are desired and will ultimately measure the success of everyone’s hard work. The guiding principles of OKRs are:

  • Transparency – openly share goals as well as execution planning
  • Alignment – ensure goals align top-down and bottom-up
  • Priorities – OKRs are expressions of priorities not business-as-usual
  • Ambition – using the level of ambition or stretch, communication, learning and innovation is increased
  • Continuous conversations – at a cadence that is often weekly update and discuss goal progress, confidence, and blockers, in addition to the work that is being done to achieve OKRs

The cultural and behavioural DNA that makes OKRs work so well is very similar to that of OKRs. For example:

  • Empowerment & trust – creating goals from the bottom-up to align with company goals
  • Listen to and respect colleagues and their expertise, opinions and responsibilities
  • Have rigorous, candid and continuous communications without making in personal
  • Be transparent and let all relevant information to flow freely, unfiltered
  • Respect each other, tell the truth and do not blame or point fingers
  • The treatment of mistakes or failure as a learning experience – it will happen, it’s how you respond that counts – feedback and learning should follow

All of which is closely related to research around Psychological Safety and the correlation this has with hyper-performing teams.

This is why in the ZOKRI OKR software platform you will find a clear separation from work and goals (OKRs), and much of the user interface has been built around the idea that what is on screen is likely to be facilitating an amazing conversation. It is also why much of the coaching that supports OKR implementation overlaps with agile working, not just OKR best practices.