The first tenet in the Agile Manifesto is an emphasis on the value of individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

With more than 18 years corporate experience, more than 30 successful business transformations in a dozen countries and on three continents, I think it’s time to share some of the lessons I’ve learned by breaking down the Agile Manifesto to unleash its real essence to the world.

Let’s start!

 

We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

Individuals

Genuinely prioritizing individuals as our highest value is common sense. People bring experience, education, wisdom, enthusiasm, ingenuity. I notice the choice of wording is “individuals” not simply ‘people.’ As Gandhi put it, action expresses priorities:

To value individuals is to value distinction and independence in a person. Click To Tweet

In your career, other than monetarily, in what ways have you been truly valued as an individual? Valued for your distinction, not your same-ness. For your singularity, not tacitly rewarded for herd behavior. Valued for your originality, your rarity, valued for your particularity? Or have you been valued for your Rank and File?

In my experience across many different organizations large and small, seeing people valued as individuals has been quite rare. I’ve observed many organizations that value sameness: in credentials, in profiles, in thought and expression. In action. The same applies to teams.

When individuals get together, we call them teams, but they are often simply groups of concession. A kind of acceptance of the status quo. This is the beauty of #Agile: it's not driven by the status quo but rather by the value creation Click To Tweet

Emerging technologies will revolutionize the way we strategize and deploy our “human resources” for competitive advantage. Think about what it means in the reality of your organization (in your own experience) to create an “Individual Development Plan.” Now, think about what it would mean for everyone, at every level to continuously develop as an individual. If the former is hollow; the latter holistic.

In the terrain ahead, your business will not survive with sycophants who inflate power-grabbing egos maintaining their kingdoms.

The inevitable and ensuing precision of AI will necessitate maximizing the essence of what individuals have over machines: Individuality. Consciousness. Humanity. Click To Tweet

The fruits of which yield connections, loyalty, discernment, insight, purpose, direction, and evolution… in other words, value creation.

These characteristics are not readily found in the traditionally well-rewarded, obsequious old guard. It’s a time for courageous leadership; time for a pioneering change.

Onwards!

We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

Interactions

You value interactions too, don’t you? Wait, do you? After almost two decades of conditioning in the field, I can attest to an immutable truth:

Traditional organizations value transactions over interactions. Click To Tweet

I’m not just referring to the act of conducting business. I mean this is how people are relating and engaging in service to the work of the business. They negotiate, bargain, settle and make deals with one another and with customers, 12 hours a day.

Transaction is execution, administration. It’s “handling.” Interaction on the other hand has an aspect of reciprocity, or corresponding association. There is chemistry, connection and association at play. True Agile. Click To Tweet

This is an exercise in relation-ship, in co-operation. Human Interaction is Agile. Pure Agile.

To borrow from physics’ definition, “interaction is the particular way in which (people) affect one another.” That’s beautiful. That’s Agile. Click To Tweet

I get from this first tenet of the Agile Manifesto that with our own distinction and originality, we connect and affect one another, and that this is valued “over” processes and tools.

I wonder if there are other communities of practice that primarily value processes and tools that the Agile Community is specifically setting itself in contrast to? Or if the notion that processes and tools come at the expense of valuing individuals and interaction?

I deeply believe that Agile is making a difference here too. For the better.

 

We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

Processes

Just as the brilliance of individuals shine most brightly through connected interaction (more on this in episode III), the value of a process is found in its relationship to the greater system around it.

To narrow into process thinking is to focus on components, effectively disconnecting and blinding ourselves to the greater story unfolding. The need, opportunity and value emerging. Click To Tweet

Yes, everything is a process: an acorn becomes an oak, winter becomes spring. But a dogmatic adherence to process, to prioritize process over individuals and interactions would be missing the point entirely. Too much attention to process adherence drives individuals and groups into isolation.

Blind devotion to a process yields a dull mediocrity of sameness. It falls far short of what is needed by prescribing a one-dimensional solution to a unique, multifaceted situation, as every customer collaboration is. Click To Tweet

Process thinking presupposes a theoretical, generic set of conditions that the given situation may or may not fit into. Odds are it will not, leading to compromise and sacrifice for the sake of … bureaucracy? This is not agile.

In Agile, the prioritization of individuals and interactions builds interconnected systems in which the sum is far greater than its parts. Click To Tweet

I will talk more about this in episode IV.

In an agile ecosystem process is found, grounded in self-organization, by exploring and experimenting beyond present thresholds of knowledge with respect to and an understanding of the given needs of the situation, and an action’s impact to the whole.

The subordination of process is to the relationship of individuals affecting one another through their interaction. And while at the end of the day an elegant process lets you deliver, if for the sake of abiding by your process you couldn’t bring your full self to bear and interact in a meaningful way, what you deliver will fall far short of what is actually, uniquely needed.

The processes in, and the process of managing business in traditional ways has a strong foothold across companies in most sectors. Old habits die hard, and “functional organization” structures, where people are affinitized and grouped in departments, feel most comfortable to many CEOs. Tried and true …but true to what?

“If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.”

Not all companies make it in the agile journey. But the smart ones do, the ones with brave leaders who know how to invest in the human essence of people.

I witnessed a transfer of power to a new CEO. Upon taking the helm he led carefully, respectfully, so as not to disrupt the “foundation” the company was built on and the 65 year traditional “culture” it had established. He listened far more than he spoke, with a quiet, naturally introverted way that lent a certain gravitas when he did speak up.

Reading market conditions, relentlessly interested in growth, and with a healthy balance of humility and self-assurance together with radical transparency through the organization, he moved. Within 16 months the company was completely revolutionized.

Based on his bold decisions to alter the course and shape the future of the company, he led by leaning into the team’s deep expertise in security, technology and customer connections. Believing in the talent of the team to carry the organization forward with autonomy and strong accountabilty, he completely repositioned the business.

His leadership breathed new life into the company, ensuring it’s evolution well beyond the deeply entrenched roots in discrete manufacturing of commoditized, obsolete goods; into an age of technology and acceleration.

In addition to completely outwitting competitors by swinging the organization onto the leading edge of the industry, he ensured the growth and continued security of 290 individuals and their families. He bet on their ability to rise to the occasion, confident and willing to break old paradigms.

He is the kind of servant leader who shapes an organization that wins in business, society and humanity by maximizing human growth to meet the changing demands of a different kind of commerce, in a new age. An agile leader.

 

We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

Tools

They tend to get a bum rap, but that’s what happens once you have a hammer, and everything starts to look like a nail. A tool is only as useful as it’s user, and so I gather the subjugation here is not so much about tools as of a tool-based mindset.
Tools are essential, but they are devices, machines. Tools are a means to an end, not the desired end itself; something to remember at the dawn of AI.

Hundreds of thousands of companies invest hundreds of thousands of dollars on “tool-based solutions” overlooking the fundamental truth that:

Only through genuine interaction do we understand each other. And with the ingenuity born of our sense of individuality we can help one another succeed. Click To Tweet

Agile organizations understand this. They prioritize these values by their actions every day. Furthermore, agile organizations think and execute based on a fundamental belief:

Creation happens at the hands of your people. It happens in process and with tools, but it happens BY people. Click To Tweet

It follows, then, that you can maximize value in one of two ways:

– By attempting to robotize humans (I am not referring here to future AI scenarios, but in past and present dehumanizing work and working conditions),
– or by maximizing human growth.

Value creation is maximized not through optimizing process, but by maximizing human growth. Click To Tweet

To be an Agile organization isn’t an alternative or auxiliary method to conducting “real” business, it is a core and primary force with which to shape the future of your organization in an emergent and changing landscape.

 

The Agile Truth: Episode I
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