Returning to the Heart of the Matter: Collaborate. Deliver. Reflect. Improve.

Collaborate. Deliver. Reflect. Improve.For me, it is far too easy to get caught up in the process and tooling during an agile implementation. The mechanics of the thing. I gravitate to getting the training wheels assembled and lightly greased – the ceremonies, improving use of existing tool stacks, tweaking processes and system, etc. – and then giving the riders a hearty push. Particularly when working with shu level teams.

While I make sure to spend time up front helping team express their core values, their north star, I find our retrospectives return again and again to the mind and the hands of practice, stressing form with the purpose of delivering value.

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Return to the heart - kokoro Share on X

The Heart of Agile

So when I caught wind of Alistair Cockburn’s blog post “Heart of Agile”  followed by hearing him deliver his keynote at the HOAPHL, it became clearer to me how I could vastly improve my approach: Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Return to the heart – kokoro

Agile Re-Explained in Four Words: Collaborate. Deliver. Reflect. Improve.

Alistair’s approach brings the focus of “What is Agile” back to four things of importance:

  • Deliver
  • Reflect
  • Improve
  • Collaborate

His approach raises up the people aspect of to agile teams at any stage of fluency: our need to invent, communicate, and decide as we address the merciless nature of our reality:

  • Does what we build actually work?
  • Do our customers really like it?
  • How can we learn where to experiment next?


Invention thru experimentation is such an important key to unlocking sustained success in today’s rapidly changing landscape. The ripple consequences of small changes within an organization can have dramatic impact. And the most powerful way to start is through collaboration.

Collaboration is commonly thought of as being deliberate. It can also be emergent – happening with tangentially connected groups.

I recently watched “How Wolves Changed Rivers”  – a short documentary about how the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National park in 1995 after an absence of almost 70 years literally changed the course of rivers. Think about it. What would have been the economic cost of “moving the rivers” by man and machine?

Fertile Ground for Collaboration

The ripple consequences of small changes within an organization can have dramatic impact. Share on X

What might be a parallel for tangentially connected teams in an agile organization? What impact might a technical team’s experiment have on marketing, for example? I honestly don’t know.

I’ve been exploring the more common definition of collaboration – deliberate – and what helps create those necessary conditions for it in other posts.

Collaboration most of all needs an environment of safety, trust, ownership, and vision to blossom. More on that here.

Unpacking the Simplicity

Similarly for each of the other concepts, Deliver, Reflect, and Improve one can dive into the skills, actions, tools, and environmental needs. Each one ripe with subtlety worthing of much exploration. See Allister’s full explanation here.

And still, as the good doctor says “we can fold back up all the nuance and complications, and remind ourselves: Collaborate. Deliver. Reflect. Improve.”

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