A Beginner's Guide to The Agile Manifesto: The 12 Principles

February 06, 2024


Emily May

When you first learn about agile from a coworker or embark on your leadership journey through coursework, a common question is, “Where did agile come from?” This article explores the original 12-principle manual that still heavily shapes the agile world today and how to apply each concept to your organization.

What Are the Agile Principles?

The Agile Principles are a set of values and beliefs that guide business leaders in implementing agile methodologies in the workplace. This framework provides a solid foundation for teams to increase collaboration, customer satisfaction, and adaptability in an ever-changing market. 

History Behind the Agile Manifesto

The Agile Principles first appeared in the Agile Manifesto, written in 2001 by software engineers who wanted to take a flexible, customer-centric approach to development. 

While agile has since extended beyond software and product management, the concepts and techniques in the Manifesto have a variety of valuable applications. The Principles continue to impact how teams approach work and deliver value to customers. 

The 4 Values of Agile

The four core values that frame the Agile Principles are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Agile leaders strive to create human-centric, efficient environments where employees and customers can thrive. 

The 12 Agile Principles

1. Satisfy the Customer Through Early and Continuous Delivery of Valuable Software

Product teams should prioritize providing new and ongoing value to their users within a speedy timeframe. Waiting until you have ‘the perfect product’ and getting stuck under piles of documentation slows engineers down – but this principle says: release what you have, collect feedback from your customers, and use it to make the software even better. 

The customer acts as a collaborator, providing early insights for improvement toward a product that meets their needs.

2. Welcome Changing Requirements, Even Late in Development

As technology evolves, industries and markets change rapidly, leading us to adapt our products and internal processes. Agile teams should regularly assess market changes and pivot accordingly. 

The ability to adjust to new demands quickly results in cutting-edge, competitive products that meet the consumer’s current needs. Business offerings are never ‘complete’– instead, they are constantly evolving. 

3. Deliver Working Software Frequently

Deliver micro-updates completed in shorter sprints rather than macro-updates completed over extended periods. For example, releasing one product update at a time provides a streamlined process to complete the update, analyze its performance, and collect feedback. 

Rather than analyzing multiple updates simultaneously, teams can evaluate each change more efficiently– allowing teams to retain tight control of the customer experience. 

4. Business People and Developers Must Work Together

Cross-departmental collaboration is essential to the agile model. In service of business and consumer outcomes, team members are encouraged to exchange their insights to achieve a common goal. 

For example, a customer service team may correspond regularly with the product development team to ensure customer pain points are addressed. This principle invites people to step outside their lane and achieve unity and alignment across the organization.

5. Build Projects Around Motivated Individuals

Don’t expend resources micromanaging employees; recruit for and design an environment conducive to motivation, trust your team to manage their projects. Agile leaders should empower their employees to own their work and expertise. 

Aligned autonomy builds self-confidence and collective trust across the organization. 

6. Promote Face-to-Face Conversations

The effectiveness of collaborative efforts boils down to the quality of our interactions. Face-to-face conversation provides unique benefits that a Slack message or email can’t match, such as spur-of-the-moment clarifications and reading social cues to build context. 

Employees build rapport with colleagues through in-person and video meetings, improving collaboration, productivity levels, and overall sentiments toward their organization. 

7. Working Software Is the Primary Measure of Progress

The seventh principle invites us to contemplate the immediate value customers gain from our work that produces demonstrable value and to use this as a measure of progress. 

Teams laser-focused on providing a customer-centric product are motivated by external results, leading to faster implementation and adaptation throughout development. 

8. Agile Processes Promote Sustainable Development

In a fast-moving environment where high-stakes products are being developed, agile processes provide a blanket of support for teams. 

For example, agile teams work together in iterations, reporting progress and collaborating across departments. Completing the work in sprints ensures projects are distributed evenly, mutual direction is shared, and employees don’t burn out. 

Agile leaders continuously improve their processes to ignite internal and external outcomes.

9. Continuous Attention to Technical Excellence and Good Design Enhances Agility

A well-designed product takes customers on a journey that hopefully leads to action– and software engineers learn as they create and update it. 

Commitment to technical excellence and good design is ongoing; agile teams implement change as technology evolves. Building on top of an already high-quality product allows developers to make changes faster with more time to cross-collaborate with their team.

10. Simplicity—the Art of Maximizing the Amount of Work Not Being Done—is Essential

The principle of simplicity guides teams to prioritize the most essential projects and the simplest solutions above ‘staying busy.’ This type of focus reduces maintenance in the long run as well. After all, in 0 lines of code, you will find 0 defects. 

Helping people  focus on what is essential keeps businesses profitable and teams productive. Through stellar time management, employees deliver consistent results and can use their specialized skill set often. 

11. The Best Architectures, Requirements, and Designs Emerge from Self-organizing Teams

Innovation occurs when teams are given autonomy to take ownership of decision-making independently and as a group. 

The team members who understand a product best are those closest to it– capable of adapting, brainstorming, and creating under their own direction. Self-organizing teams see how their hard work directly impacts outcomes and find meaning in collective project control. 

12. At Regular Intervals, the Team Reflects on How to Become More Effective

Imagine a work environment where team members don’t have deadlines or structure: a likely scenario is that this business will find itself muddled in administrative work, with very few exciting developments to report. 

Working as a team at regular intervals keeps goals, deadlines, adjustments, and reflections in check. Short bursts reinforce the concept of a continuous cycle of improvement– every new sprint is an opportunity to learn more. 

What’s Next for Agile?

The 12 Agile Principles were written with a focus on software development. Still, today, agile has expanded far beyond product engineering, and these lessons can be applied on a grand scale within an organization to improve overall processes, management styles, and department functions.

Further, some industry experts are shifting away from viewing agile principles as a framework and, instead, as an overarching organizational mindset. Agile teams work parallel to customer needs, and when the market shifts, so do internal processes and solutions.

Lastly, the widespread adoption of automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence advances will continue to increase among agile organizations. Progressing with technology creates a streamlined experience for internal and external stakeholders, helping organizations stay competitive in a constantly changing world. 


The Agile Manifesto contains lessons that can serve as a catalyst for change in any organization. Are you ready to learn more about agile basics? Consider browsing our Foundations classes and becoming an ICAgile Certified Professional.

Elevate Your Learning

Join our community of agile learners and get the latest news and resources delivered straight to your inbox.

* indicates required
Foundations, Agile Fundamentals, Business Agility Foundations

About the author

Emily May | ICAgile, Marketing Specialist
Emily May is a Marketing Specialist at ICAgile, where she helps educate learners on their agile journey through content. With an eclectic background in communications supporting small business marketing efforts, she hopes to inspire readers to initiate more empathy, productivity, and creativity in the workplace for improved internal and external outcomes.