What Are Values?

What Are Values?

No, not “What Is Value?”. I already did that.🙂

Rather, what are “values”. As in e.g.

“Agile is much more a set of values than a set of practices.”

~ Andrew Binstock

I guess different folks have many different conceptions of “values”. Before my Road to Damascus experience with Nonviolent Communication, I probably would have described “values” using terms like “moral values”, ethics, good-and-bad, right-and-wrong, and so on.

But now, having seen the Light, here’s how I’m using the term:

Values are what drives us to choose – often subconsciously – one particular strategy for getting our needs met from a range of possible strategies. We choose a particular strategy because of how we feel about it. If we feel more comfortable with a particular strategy, we’re more likely to choose it over other strategies with which we feel less comfortable.

Note that this has little to do with rational thought, such as a logical evaluation of the relative merits of the chosen strategy – whether it might work well for us, whether it might best serve us in getting our needs met.

We sorry humans often choose suboptimal strategies (understatement!). Suboptimal strategies which fail to get our needs met, or even actively work against us getting our needs met. We might choose to say that we do this because we are following our “values”. BTW Chris Argyris refers to this as our “theories in use”.

Agile Values

So when folks talk about “Agile values”, for me this implies a certain set of strategies for attending to the individual and collective needs of the folks in a team – as well as the needs of the higher-ups, customers, etc.. Often, these strategies are very different from those strategies more widespread in the team’s containing (parent) organisation. We might hear folks describe this in terms of different – and competing – “value-systems”.

FWIW I more often describe this as a clash of mindsets. I don’t see the differences in nomenclature – mindsets vs memeplexes vs value-systems – as being very material in this context.

Of course, “Agile values” are an attempt to share – and encourage the adoption of – strategies that some luminaries in the software development community believed (circa 2001) are more likely to get folks’ needs met than some other strategies – for example, those implicit in “traditional business value-system” a.k.a. the Analytic Mindset.

How does this all fit with your values?

– Bob

Further Reading

A Beginner’s Guide to Personal Integrity ~ Think Different blog post
Memes of the Four Memeplexes ~ Think Different blog post
Nonviolent Communication – A Language of Life ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

5 comments
  1. This ties in nicely to teaching people agile.

    I find it is key to focus on the ‘Why’. Why were the manifesto authors driven to operate in an agile way. Why did they create the manifesto. Why did they word the manifesto that way. This allows the audience to align their current value system with the agile value system.

    It is much more important than teaching them the rules of any particular methodology. i.e. Scrum.

  2. I often find peoples’ values geared toward selecting short term tactics rather than a more optimal long term strategy. This might be a cultural thing stemming from the need to see some resulting change/benefit from a course of actions.

    I would throw in principles as well, which I find is actually what defines my decisions, with these principles being settled on ultimately be my values…

  3. Martin Burns said:

    I like this a lot.

    Of course since most choices have varying outcomes for different sets of folks, choosing a set of values tends also to include choosing which set(s) of folks’ needs we prioritise.

    Or to put it another way (summarizing & rephrasing from above): “believed are more likely to get folks-we-value‘s needs met”

    • Hi Martin,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. And yes, folks-we-value’s-needs met. A.k.a. “stakeholders”, most often. Also probably worth mentioning Art Kleiner’s Core Groups Theory.

      – Bob

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