Lean Agile Best Practices, Values, Principles and Virtues

agile best practices scrum kanban xp I often hear the question: “What is the [insert: agile, scrum, kanban, xp] best practice for situation xyz?.”

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the answer is simple and universal: “Agile Best Practices? Those which work now, or might work soon if you gave ’em a shot.”

Yes, methodologies such as Scrum, Kanban, XP, come with explicit practices a team must be using to apply the respective frameworks “label.”  Some refer to these as the “Best Practices.” And there are also emergent “Generally Accepted Practices” that are optional. All are readily available from any methodology’s “Field Guide.”

But are these really the “Agile Best Practices” for your team? Should you blindly follow them to the letter? Should “Leadership” mandate you implement them?

NO. NO. NO. All of these practices are good only as training wheels and should be taken off as soon as possible. Drop the framework labeling [Scrum, Kanban, XP] if you feel a little dirty when you veer from the dogma.

Values and Principles – The North Star for Teams

Behind all of these practices (best, GASP, etc) are important values and principles. And I propose that teams use values and principles as their north star as they develop and refine their own best practices. (And maybe we drop “best” from our usage. It is simply too damn situational.)

Management 3.0 Virtues

In Management 3.0, Jurgen Appelo provided his “Big List of 50 Virtues” which he writes was inspired by the Wisdom Commons website:




© 2014 Jurgen Appelo

In Managing for Happiness, the list has grown; it’s now the List of 150 Core Values. (More to jumpstart your own thinking!)

agile best practices values and principlesValues from Assorted Communities of Practice

But wait, there’s more. Below is a summary of what various communities of practice have defined as their core values and principles:

Agile Manifesto

Agile Values

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.

© 2001, the authors this declaration may be freely copied in any form, but only in its entirety through this notice.

Agile Principles

  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.

Interesting quora discussion from former Google engineering director on “do all of these agile principles apply to us?”

Modern Agile

Agile beyond software / IT, what an expansive concept, has four guiding principles:

  • Make people awesome
  • Make safety a prerequisite
  • Experiment and learn rapidly
  • Deliver value continuously

Read more about each at modernagile.org

Lean Principles

  • Eliminate waste
  • Empower the team
  • Build integrity in
  • Amplify learning
  • Decide late
  • Deliver fast
  • See the whole

Lean Change Values

(Jason Little)

  • Simplicity of interactions over complex process
  • Cause and purpose over urgency.. the why
  • Diversity and inclusion over closed-door planning
  • Pull over push
  • Touch over technology
  • Organic over scripted
  • Growth over perfection
  • Quality over quantity

Lean-Agile Flow Values

Via jeff Pray 

We are uncovering new ways to deliver value at the highest possible rate and quality while delighting our customers. Through this work we have learned to value:

  • Flow enabled by Lean-Agile Leadership over project-based management and delivery
  • Customer value definition as small, independent value over large, interdependent value
  • Prioritization, limiting the work in progress, and pulling when capacity is available over advanced loading by perceived capacity
  • Empowering teams to deliver valuable software continuously over holding work in and delivering in large batches

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

Scrum Master Values

Philip Rogers put together a wonderful post about the values of scrum mastery, where he provides the following value pairs using the construct of the Agile Manifesto:

  • Team communication and collaboration over process compliance
  • Shared understanding of what is to be done over-fixation on how decisions are reached
  • Open dialogue with users and stakeholders over “walled gardens” separating teams from their customers
  • Acknowledging that not everything can be known and working incrementally from that starting point over immutable timelines and feature sets

Manifesto for Software Craftsmanship

Raising the bar. As aspiring Software Craftsmen, we are raising the bar of professional software development by practicing it and helping others learn the craft. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Not only working software, but also well-crafted software
  • Not only responding to change, but also steadily adding value
  • Not only individuals and interactions, but also a community of professionals
  • Not only customer collaboration, but also productive partnerships

That is, in pursuit of the items on the left we have found the items on the right to be indispensable.

© 2009, the original authors. this statement may be freely copied in any form, but only in its entirety through this notice.

Agile Project Management Declaration of Independence

Agile and adaptive approaches for linking people, projects, and value

We are a community of project leaders that are highly successful at delivering results. To achieve these results:

  • We increase return on investment by making continuous flow of value our focus.
  • We deliver reliable results by engaging customers in frequent interactions and shared ownership.
  • We expect uncertainty and manage for it through iterations, anticipation, and adaptation.
  • We unleash creativity and innovation by recognizing that individuals are the ultimate source of value, and creating an environment where they can make a difference.
  • We boost performance through group accountability for results and shared responsibility for team effectiveness.
  • We improve effectiveness and reliability through situationally specific strategies, processes and practices.
©2005 David Anderson, Sanjiv Augustine, Christopher Avery, Alistair Cockburn, Mike Cohn, Doug DeCarlo, Donna Fitzgerald, Jim Highsmith, Ole Jepsen, Lowell Lindstrom, Todd Little, Kent McDonald, Pollyanna Pixton, Preston Smith and Robert Wysocki.

Agile Testing Q/A Manifesto

  • Testing throughout over testing at the end
  • Preventing bugs over finding bugs
  • Testing understanding over testing functionality
  • Building the best system over breaking the system
  • Team responsibility over tester responsibility
©2015  GrowingAgile

Pamphlet for Complex Projects

  • Each problem has multiple Solutions. There is not one best way to run a software project.
  • Solutions depend on the problem’s context. The best practices depend on the project environment.
  • Changing context requires changing solutions. When project environments change, projects change accordingly.
  • Each strange solution is the best one somewhere. There is always a place and time for less popular practices.
  • Solutions change the context and themselves. Practices change environments and how we use practices.
  • Simplicity necessitates understanding complexity. One must understand complexity before applying simple solutions.
  • We cannot predict the best solution. We have to try practice to know if they work in our context.
© Jurgen Appelo

Extreme Programming XP Values – Beck /Andres 

  • Communication: Keep the right communications flowing by employing many practices that can’t be done without communicating. Problems with projects can invariably be traced back to somebody not talking to somebody else about something important.
  • Simplicity: What is the simplest thing that could possibly work? Make a bet that it is better to do a simple thing today and pay a little more tomorrow to change it if necessary than to do a more complicated thing today that may never be used anyway.
  • Feedback: Concrete feedback about the current state of the system is absolutely priceless. Optimism is an occupational hazard of programming. Feedback is the treatment.
  • Courage: Have the courage it takes to develop good software, which may mean throwing away code and changing direction, even late in development. What’s to say that you won’t ever develop yourself into a corner? Courage
  • Respect; Everyone gives and feels the respect they deserve as a valued team member. Everyone contributes value even if it’s simply enthusiasm. Developers respect the expertise of the customers and vice versa. Management respects our right to accept responsibility and receive authority over our own work.

Scrum Values – Schwaber/Beedle

  • Focus: Do your job. Focus all your efforts and skills on doing the work that you’ve committed to doing. Don’t worry about anything else.
  • Courage: Have the courage to commit, to act, to be open, and to expect respect
  • Openness: Scrum keeps everything about a project visible to everyone.
  • Commitment: Be willing to commit to a goal. Scrum provides people all the authority they need to meet their commitments.
  • Respect: Individuals are shaped by their background and their experiences. It is important to respect the different people who comprise a team.

Agile HR Manifesto


  • Networked Structure over vertical hierarchy. We seek participation, innovation
  • Transparency over secrecy. We seek collective intelligence, meritocracy
  • Projects and Souls over jobs and roles. We seek flexibility, capability to face continual disruption
  • Adaptability over predictability. We seek continuous learning, culture, deal with complexity of reality.
  • Intrinsic and Transcendent Motivation over extrinsic rewards. We seek autonomy, challenge.
  • Ambition over obligation. We seek self- mastery, happiness.

Agile Performance Appraisals Manifesto


  • Fairness over criticism.
  • Actionable feedback over numbers.
  • Frequent reality checks over abstract evaluation criteria.
  • Rewards reflective of business value added over rewarding the status quo.


  • We respect individuals regardless of the power dynamic in the process.
  • Criteria should be visible and the process transparent.
  • The process is fluid and can change as long as the manifesto is applied.
  • Appraisals should be regular enough to ensure no surprises.
  • We embrace and support and reward changing actions where business reality demands.
  • We recognize the value of work done.
  • Appraisals should be done by people with context.
  • We assess as frequently as possible, but no more frequent than would be disruptive.
  • Metrics should be easy to understand,, assessable and achievable, and have a shelf life.
  • We provide frequent actionable feedback to help teams and people improve.

Manifesto for Human Leadership

We believe in the creativity and motivation of human beings. We consider human leadership as pivotal in a highly networked and highly complex world. We understand the task of leadership as serving life and striving for conditions in which people, in their diversity, can contribute in the best possible way and in which they can develop themselves and work effectively together:

  • Unleashing human potential over employing human resources.
  • Diversity and dissent over conformity and consensus.
  • Purpose and trust over command and control.
  • Contributions to networks over position in hierarchies.
  • Growing leaders over leading followers.
  • Courageously exploring the new over efficiently exploiting the old.

A Manager’s Manifesto

10) Always get the full story before making a decision.

9) It’s incredibly easy to ‘flip the switch’ and start writing people off after a few bad experiences. Resist at all costs. You were bumbling once too. You made poor decisions. You learn and grow, and so does everybody else.

8) Sweep up the crumbs. Wipe the tables. Turn off the lights. Plug the holes that need plugging—even if it’s menial, even if nobody will know you did it. Do it in service of the product, the company, and this wondrous, magical thing you are all building together.

7) Recognize you can’t do everything. Close your eyes, fall backwards, and learn to trust.

6) Clearly, there is a more efficient way to do the things you do. How? Ponder that on your daily drive home.

5) Figure out which people rely on you and how you can help them be self-sufficient. You may feel important having a monopoly on salmon provisions, but if the whole village learns how to fish, it’ll free you up to do something else. Like figuring out how to grow wheat. Or how to domesticate those cute wolf-pups.

4) Don’t say anything if it’s not actually contributing to the discussion. Your voice is not so melodious that it absolutely must be heard.

3) Making the best decision is not as important as putting in the right processes to ensure that the best decisions get made.

2) Dole out thanks and encouragement like you dole out opinions.

1) Above all, this: never, ever get in the way. It’s better to twiddle your thumbs and squint up at the clouds than to obstruct progress for the sake of that stupid, childish thing called ego.


Dare To Lead List of Values

In Dare to Lead, Brené presents a diverse set of over 100 values, like accountability, achievement, balance, competence, excellence, family, giving back, joy, legacy, order, patience, recognition, resourcefulness, travel, wealth, and wisdom.

The Descaling Manifesto

Via Peter Merel CEO XSCALE Alliance

  • Autonomy and alignment over command and control
  • Throughput accounting over cost accounting
  • Pull based delivery and change over push-based
  • Learning ecosystems over training hierarchies
  1. Directly responsible individuals: business, design and tech stakeholders make decisions together as peers to build solutions that meet each others’ constraints.
  2. Capture and store learning in small, self-organizing teams: as these work on the current bottleneck they become capable of opening future ones.
  3. Work on outcomes: teams continuously quantify their contribution to business throughput, prioritize the current bottleneck, and minimize work in progress.
  4. Align small groups of teams into self-managing business streams that continuously adapt their work priorities to changing market feedback.
  5. Reward mutual benefit across business streams to reduce silos, dependencies, duplication and missed opportunities, and share resources, services, and learning.
  6. Mercilessly refactor business streams: reuse, recycle or reduce all the resources a stream produces so all contribute to top-line throughput and none go to waste.
  7. Design breadth-first. Step back to see patterns in and between markets and business streams. These inform designs we can only detail as we learn more.
  8. Collaborate rather than delegate: people and teams are in the right relationships when their conversations evolve to support each others’ work and learning.
  9. Take time to simplify and automate solutions: simple, automated systems cost less than big manual ones, taking less work to maintain business outcomes.
  10. Use and value experimentation: experiment to reduce risk and adapt each product to the changing constraints of your business streams and markets.
  11. Enrich interfaces and serve under-served customers: spaces between market segments are where most opportunities for innovation and productivity occur.
  12. Transform to embrace change: continuously adapt your organization’s patterns to changing market conditions and to develop opportunities for new markets.

The Rugged Software Manifesto

  1. I am rugged and, more importantly, my code is rugged.
  2. I recognize that software has become a foundation of our modern world.
  3. I recognize the awesome responsibility that comes with this foundational role.
  4. I recognize that my code will be used in ways I cannot anticipate, in ways it was not designed, and for longer than it was ever intended.
  5. I recognize that my code will be attacked by talented and persistent adversaries who threaten our physical, economic, and national security.
  6. I recognize these things – and I choose to be rugged.
  7. I am rugged because I refuse to be a source of vulnerability or weakness.
  8. I am rugged because I assure my code will support its mission.
  9. I am rugged because my code can face these challenges and persist in spite of them.
  10. I am rugged, not because it is easy, but because it is necessary and I am up for the challenge.

Roll Your Own Team Values

Whew, that’s a lot of ideas. I’m sure you can find plenty of inspiration to make your own list of team values.

How many values should a team have? It depends. Would you settle for “just enough but not too many.” If you need a number, I suspect 5±2, or maybe 7±2. The key point is that the team decides which and how many values “fit” given their current situation.

Does “management” need to agree to the team’s list of values? Any team is part of the larger organization. If there’s a huge disconnect between company values and team values, problems will eventually emerge and it’s likely the team will be dissolved. Perhaps it is a “Type 2” decision: Team consults with leadership, in the event of a tie or disagreement, the team wins. But they accept full accountability. (A key point I want to make is that a team’s values are theirs to define. Can they simply adopt en masse from one of the lists above?  Maybe. If they want. Leadership just can’t inform them “Here are your values.”)

How frequently should the team inspect and adapt their list of values? They’ll know thru retrospectives when it is time. Situations change, team members come and go. Values need to be adjusted accordingly. Drop some, add some. Maybe it’s part of the team expectations exercise.

Ultimately these values serve a “north star” for when a team hits something new, messy, unexpected, or just confusing. By using these values as guidance, the team can develop its own agile best practices. Whoops. Their own GEFN practices 🙂


Refactoring Ideas 

  • Emphasize / clarify “current” and “aspirational” values – outcome should include both
  • In a large group, use 1-2-4-all to go from individual to group

Team Values Histogram


I’ve facilitated the “Roll Your Own Values” exercise many times. My takeaways are:

  • It is relatively easy for the teams to come up with an initial list
  • It helps to find a single word that summarizes affinity groups
  • A small list (five max) is workable, any more is cumbersome
  • To keep things alive, teams need to see these values frequently – added a channel description in slack, put on a wall
  • It’s been great to tie the values into kudo/props practices and a tool like Bonus.ly makes doing so easy

Case Study in Make It Your Own

https://twitter.com/johncutlefish has a great example of a team owning their values:


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