Positive Incline Mike Burrows (@asplake) moving on up, positively

June 21, 2010

Learning together: Kanban and the Twelve Principles of Agile Software

This post is a spin off from the recent Scrum/Kanban debate.  Not wanting to let a situation go to waste, it seems a good time to affirm shared values, which I do here via the Twelve Principles behind the Agile manifesto.  I’m grateful to Joshua Bloom for his excellent input.

Commentary on the twelve principles of agile software

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software.

Kanban: Check. We pull business value through the system, creating flow.  It should be recognized however that sometimes we create value by means other than delivering software (sometimes even by not delivering software!).  Furthermore, the act of improving the system generates value as it increases the capability of the wider organisation to generate value.

Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

Kanban: Check. We actively limit work-in-progress (WIP), facilitating late prioritisation and minimising the impact of change on lead times.  We actively work to clarify the customer’s priorities so that the team can manage risk by properly sequencing work.

Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

Kanban: Check. We make deliveries at intervals consistent with customer need and transaction cost.  We seek to minimise transactions costs attributable to the software development process, thereby making shorter delivery intervals economically optimal.  Highly advanced teams look towards continual deployment concepts to limit the inventory of complete yet not deployed software. We believe the best requirements come from software already depoyed being exercised by the customers/users. Achieving flow to the end-user generates higher value faster.

Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

Kanban: Check. The development team and customer must learn together, in relation to both the problem domain and the delivery process.  The visual element of Kanban promotes transparency and creates triggers for customer interaction.

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

Kanban: Check. Build processes that respect individuals; empower them to learn and to improve the system.

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

Kanban: Check. Visualization and models allow face-to-face conversations to scale effectively. Limiting WIP prompts teams to have conversations DURING difficulties.

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

Kanban: Delivered business value is the primary measure of progress.

Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Kanban:  We work within and share responsibility for the capability of our system; sustained long-run capability cannot be built at the short-term expense of the individual.

Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

Kanban: Check.  And we look to increase capacity by identifying and reducing the failure demand that results from inattention to quality.

Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential.

Kanban: Check.  Furthermore we actively manage work-in-progress, minimizing work not finished.

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

Kanban: Check, and process too. Leaders (inside and outside the team) must foster emergence, not squash it.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Kanban: Check. Continually even.


So there you have it, no fundamental conflict but a couple of clarifications and some changes of emphasis too.  It has to be said that these small differences do add up to a shift of mindset, but it is one that much of the Agile community has taken on board as a result of the increasing influence of Lean.

If I were to pick out a key thought it would be this:

The development team and customer must learn together, in relation to both the problem domain and the delivery process.

This lesson would be recognised by much of the Agile community I’m sure.


  1. Great post!

    Maybe its time for a set of kanban principles?

    I think the change in focus to business value over working software is a good one, all too often IT abdicates responsibility for business sucess, kanban and lean’s switch in emphasis to value and flow provide us with tools to step into the “scary” business world and be accountable to value.

    Comment by jeff anderson — June 23, 2010 @ 2:00 am

  2. Hi Jeff, thanks!

    Yes a set of Kanban principles would be a good thing but I wouldn’t necessarily want it to represent a breakaway from Agile. But perhaps it would be an appropriate challenge to the whole community if we could come up with a set that takes on board what we’ve all learned in the intervening years. Current efforts that are even more prescriptive (assuming iterations for example) are a backward step.

    Comment by Mike — June 23, 2010 @ 6:45 am

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