Agile ValuesJan Kahmen5 min read

Anchoring Agile Values in the Company: Opportunities, Limits and Challenges

Agile working is one of the buzzwords around New Work. Not only software developers, but all industries are supposed to benefit from agile values and principles. But what that means exactly often remains unclear. We explain what agile values are all about and how you as a company can become more agile.


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The term agile in the context of work and organizational culture was coined in the agile manifesto in 2001. WorkingToday, agile working has long been standard in software development. Agile frameworks such as SCRUM help developers to make the development process agile. At the same time, more and more companies from a wide range of industries are becoming interested in these concepts. But what can such a transformation look like?

What is Agile? Values, Methods and Principles

Agile principles, agile methods and agile values. There are many terms circulating in job postings, newspaper articles, and websites that are often used interchangeably but do not mean the same thing. Agile values are the basis for agile principles, methods and practices. Principles represent general rules that apply irrevocably and shape development processes. They are formalized in agile practices and realized with agile methods. Companies that want to become more agile as an organization should therefore first address agile values. Without agile values, no agile principles and no agile working methods.

Agile Values: Openness, Diversity and Willingness to Learn

The agile manifesto named four agile values. However, these were derived directly from the requirements of software development and cannot be applied to every organization. Accordingly, there is no conclusive list of all agile values. However, there are agile values that are shared and lived by the vast majority of agile organizations. These include openness, willingness to learn and diversity.

Openness means being open to new information, experiences and situations and reflecting them in one's own actions. But openness also means transparency - the will to share information with one's team members as quickly as possible so that everyone is always on the same page. Willingness to learn means acknowledging the imperfections of one's own knowledge, asking questions independently and not stubbornly clinging to old experiences. Diversity Diversity means perceiving different backgrounds and perspectives as enrichment and actively promoting this multiperspectivity. Lived diversity is a resource that not only improves product quality in software development, but also helps to continually renew and improve the organization.

Can Aility be Imposed from Above?

Agile values are not a one-way street. However, studies show that management personnel still frequently demand agility from employees, but do not live these values themselves. This is evident, for example, in the way attempts are made to introduce agile values. Values cannot be decertified from above and anchored in the organization. Every effort to bring agile values into the organization encounters an existing corporate culture that cannot be changed at will.

Involve Employees in the Process

Companies that want to become more agile in their structure and values should take agile values to heart in the development itself. Cultivating openness, being willing to learn, and viewing diversity as a resource are central to sustainable change processes in the company. Your own employees know the organization and their own working reality best and are the experts for your company - so involving them in the process not only sends a positive signal, but offers a real advantage.

Agile Values must fit the Business Factually and Culturally

Agile values hinge on the people who ultimately promote and live them in the organization. It is therefore crucial to formulate agile values for the organization that fit the corporate culture. They can only have an impact if the real processes in the company allow them to be aligned with you. If you confront a team with a long history with a completely new guiding culture, you provoke resistance and conflicts. Factual reasons can also speak against the formulation of certain values. A company developing a mobile game benefits from an open culture of error. An energy supplier cannot afford this error culture.

Conclusion: What do agile Values Achieve?

It is not a matter of completely reconciling value concepts and reality from the outset. The formulation of agile values has a normative function and is intended to change the working culture in the company. At the same time, agile values are not a code of conduct that forces employees to act in a certain way. Rather, clearly formulated values help to develop an awareness of where everyday corporate life deviates from the formulated ideal. This awareness then helps in the targeted further development of the corporate culture in the direction of the ideal conception.

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