Finding meaning in the Agile Manifesto

Whenever I'm starting with a new group, whether they are currently using Agile practices or whether they are looking to move in an Agile direction, one of the first things I do with them is a review of the Agile Manifesto. The purpose of this exercise is to understand how much of an Agile Mindset has been incorporated or already exists in the group or whether they've just adopted some practices without a good understanding of why.

Utilizing concepts and techniques popularized by by Sharon Bowman in her book: Training from the Back of the Room, I start by showing the group the Agile Manifesto. I read out loud each item but don't explain the meaning. Next I then have the group self-organize into four even sized teams giving each team poster paper and colored markers.  

The teams start by each writing one of the Manifesto items across the top. Then each team creates a definition of what they think it means, giving examples of how it applies to their work. Finally they give a rating on a scale of 1-10 on how well their group currently meets this definition (1 = not at all, 10 = we live and die by this).  

This usually takes about 20 minutes to complete, as the teams are creating their posters I move between room helping to guide and asking probing questions. A typical question I often get from teams is "is it X vs. Y?" Use this as an opportunity to discuss situations where Y can still provide value to their team, but how X can help their team achieve even greater Agility.

As the teams finish, I have them tape their posters up on the wall and choose a spokesperson. The teams will now present their posters to the rest of the group with a facilitated discussion on what the team has created. The audience is given a chance to make changes if needed and give their take on the correct rating.  

Using this technique, I am be able to engage teams in a more meaningful discussion of where a group's Agile Mindset is strong and where it needs improvement. This creates a great lead-in to a discussion of the team's pain points and how to help them address them using Agile principles. 

If you get the opportunity to use this exercise with your team, be sure to reach out and let me know.