The agile manifesto’s underappreciated preamble

When reading the agile manifesto, what is most often remembered are the four key values espoused within it.  Many people remember at least one of the values.  The values are concise: They provide a lot of information without being verbose.  The values themselves are a demonstration of the “essential” principle of simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done.

  • Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools
  • Working software over Comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over Following a plan

The twelve principles behind the agile manifesto aren’t as frequently remembered.  Mario Moreira surveyed self proclaimed agile professionals to see how many of the agile principles they could remember.  He found that only 11% of the 109 respondents knew 3 or more of the principles.  Many more respondents (59%) could name 3 or more Scrum ceremonies.  His conclusion: people are more interested in doing agile vs. being agile.

Understanding the agile values and principles contained within the agile manifesto is an important part of truly being an agile individual and organization.  However, the preamble of the manifesto is in and of itself a truly concise demonstration of agile.

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value…

The manifesto doesn’t begin by telling readers that they’ve discovered the path to high flow.  It tells readers that the authors are uncovering better ways of developing software.  The explicit implication is that they haven’t discovered how to develop software. By describing the discovery process as ongoing, the preamble welcomes change – one of the key values and principles.  How very meta.

As a point of comparison, consider the famous preamble to the Constitution of the United States.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Once again the preamble provides a concise summary of the document, and sets the stage for the rest of the content.  The US Constitution stakes a claim to be representative of the people of the United States.  It also seeks to form a more perfect union – like the agile manifesto’s preamble, it doesn’t claim to be a completed work.  It frames the remainder of the document which will go on to describe how the people’s government will be formed as well as how the people can continue to change the document through amendments.


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