Reflections on #10yrsagile – What is Value?

On February 11-13, 2001, a group of 17 people came together and created the Agile Manifesto. This launched a decade of dramatic change in the way software projects are delivered in many organizations. A decade later, on February 11-12, in the same resort in Utah, 33 people got together to discuss the Agile Manifesto and talk about what is next. There was a lot of  great discussion and a lot of agreement. What was interesting to me was that there was a lack of agreement on what the last bullet,

“Maximize Value Creation Across the Entire Process”

even means.

Working Code as Value

The first principle behind the Agile Manifesto is:

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

To many in the software development community – including many of the attendees at the 10 Years Agile workshop, value means working, tested, deployed code. I agree that this is important, but this is not value. Working, tested, deployed code is captured in the first bullet:

“Demand Technical Excellence”

But does this deliver any value? Quality software is necessary but not sufficient for value delivery. Some in this community view quality software and software craftsmanship as the final purpose. There are some that feel that this was all that in the control of the members of the Agile community. I don’t share this perspective. Value not only has a broader meaning than this, but this limited perspective can actually be value destroying.

Organizational and Personal Values

When we were defining Value-based Development – it was marked up to be Values-based development by someone. Within the agile community, there is a metaphor of software development teams as pigs surrounded by chickens and seagulls. The pigs are committed to development the chickens are involved and the seagulls just fly in a crap all over everything.  The pigs are management and the seagulls are management.  This metaphor comes from the difficult organizational environments that many developers have worked in.  There are some in the community that consider value to be improving the conditions that people work in every day. This is captured in the second bullet:

“Promote Individual Change and Lead Organizational Change”

This is valuable, but does this deliver any value? Improving the environment that individuals work in is really important. Software development is a creative endeavor, it is critical to create an environment where people feel safe and motivated so they can do great creative work. Some in the community view this as the real motivation behind the Agile community. They feel that Agile software development is about what’s in the best interest of the developers. Organizational and Personal values are key – but they aren’t value. In fact, a singular focus on improving personal values can be value destroying.

Value as Customer Value

There is a strong movement emerging in the Agile community, or the post-agile community, that agile is about customer experience. Customer experience is critical to get people to use your product. Customer value is the difference between what a customer gets from a product, and what he or she has to give in order to get it. Customer value is really, really important. Google is my favorite search engine. They absolutely understand what customer value is. But they don’t stay in business on customer value. They make money from advertising and a lot of other things other than search. Again, customer value is necessary but not sufficient. Too narrow of a focus on customer value can lead to a failure of the business. I agree that customer experience is underserved in the Agile community. I believe that Customer Value is a key component of the fourth statement “Maximize Value Creation Across the Entire Process.” But, it is not the entire story.

Value as Economic Value

Eli Goldratt, in “The Goal” defines the making money today and into the future. This is about economic value. There are multiple views of economic value.

Business Value: Increase or Project Revenue, Reduce or Prevent Costs, Improve Service, and Maintain Compliance in alignment with the organizations strategy.

Cost of Delay: the cost to bear as a result of delay in investment.

Risk: An obstacle to Business Value.

Businesses are economic enterprises. Any view of Value that doesn’t acknowledge this is short-sighted. Agile is about quality software, organizational and personal value, and customer value. But at the end of the day, Agile is about improving the ability of the organization to improve economic outcomes.

Summary

Just like Agile, value is not well defined. And different people have different perspectives of value. Even when faced with the options, they decide that some of them are not important. I am a strong advocate of all the aspects of value – and Agile organization’s must setup guard rails to ensure that technical, personal, economic, and customer value are held in high regard. But they are a means to an end – not  an end unto themselves. There are parts of the Agile community that not only view these as an end unto themselves, but that promote the idea that a focus on economic value is actually bad. I don’t share this perspective. Agile is about improving economic outcomes. Technical, personal, economic, and customer value are enablers of this end. Doing these right helps deliver economic outcomes. Focusing on these outside the context of economic value is destructive.

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4 Responses to “Reflections on #10yrsagile – What is Value?”

  1. What is Value? | Project Management for Software Development says on :

    [...] blog post discusses the definitions of value in the project management context and how the agile community considers [...]

  2. Art Lancaster says on :

    This is a very interesting post. As an entrepreneur following agile methods, we get new features tested with customers quickly thanks to agile development. The learning per cycle we get is itself of tremendous value to our business to quickly adapt to customer and market high economic value software products. For me the value of learning per agile cycle is the critical component brought by agile methods to build large economic value rapidly.

  3. Ghennipher Weeks says on :

    Great observations! Maximizing value, in particular, the economic kind, is one of the great strengths agile can bring to integrated teams. Integrating development and marketing teams can close the loop of maximizing value, because the product developed in house has a much closer are more immediate connection to the outside world – those for whom the product is made, and who ultimately make or break a business by either converting to customers or not. The point of conversion is where any notion of value really proves itself.

    Experienced Agile practitioners from the development side likely have multiple arguments as to why this is more challenging than it is beneficial. And, to be sure, there are challenges to overcome in spanning company silos with an agile approach. But in the search marketing world there are companies, like Razorfish, who are using this approach with great success. I wrote a post to open up the idea of capturing the final value of an agile project at http://appliedconnectioneering.com/agile-marketing-manifesto/

  4. Lean Excellence Indonesia says on :

    Lean Excellence Indonesia…

    [...]Dennis Stevens » Blog Archive » Reflections on #10yrsagile – What is Value?[...]…

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