Agile Simplicity

by Derek Winter


I've been thinking in recent weeks about how the Agile Manifesto applies to business ... What does it mean to be an Agile Business? The Agile approach values People over processes, Getting things done over documentation, Collaboration over contracts and Embracing change over adherance to a plan. You can read more about Agile here.

Often whats gets in the way of us individually or collectively achieving things is making it more complicated or convoluted than it needs to be. This leads to doing things that don't need doing, or don't need doing now. Which takes us back to the art of simplicity.

I love the definition of Simplicity contained in the principles of the Agile Manifesto contain the following definition of Simplicity:

"Simplicity -- the art of maximising the amount of work not done -- is essential"

Just do enough, and no more. Don't add on "nice to haves" or "just in case" or "what if this or that happens" or "maybe one day we need..." Be clear on the goal and organise the work to just achieve the goal.

How do we do this? Focus decision making processes on what our goals are (and what's not in scope) and then determine what is needed to achieve our goals and just our goals.

When the Manifesto was written it represented a new paradigm of working which is less revolutionary now. Although the concepts and 'Agile' as a tag are more mainstream, it's not commonly embedded behaviour in most organisations. In particular the Manifesto broke new ground by recognising that it was more effective to make incremental, iterative progress towards our goals than a 'big bang' approach, which is applicable both to determining those goals and to achieving them.

So, back to simplicity ... maximise the amount of work not done. Qualify out the unnecessary work in your day. Be clear on your departments goals and prioritise tasks that get you closer to them (and drop other tasks). Understand your organisations strategies and focus on projects that are aligned, lowering the priority of projects that don't align.

These questions of alignment and priorities should be asked regularly. Perhaps daily at a personal level, weekly at a team level, monthly at a departmental level and quarterly at an organisation level. 

Start practising the art of simplicity and you'll find you achieve more and waste less.