The Twelfth Principle

The Twelfth Principle

There are four values and twelve principles connected with the Agile Manifesto. As the folks at 12thPrinciple say,

“the four values and eleven of the twelve Agile principles do not address the wider organization at all.”

This is one of the key reasons why so many Agile adoptions (circa 80%) fail to deliver on the Agile promise.

I have this weeks added my name to the list of signatories at  Not because I totally and wholeheartedly embrace the “Twelfth Principle” in its current form. But because I wish to lend support to the idea that it’s the wider organisational context that utterly determines whether any kind of progressive change effort or initiative succeeds or fails.

The Twelfth Principle (n.b. actually appearing fifth in the list of Principles behind the Agile Manifesto) reads:

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

I see some basic flaws in this, but it does serve to highlight (at least, implicitly) the role of the wider organisation.

Here’s my take on these “flaws”:

  • Projects. I see little point in using projects to frame development efforts. Personally, I subscribe to #NoProjects, and FlowChain as a practical means to replace the whole idea of projects, in favour of product development flow.
  • Individuals. Yes, teams consist of individuals. But Man is a social animal, and collaborative knowledge work – such as software and product development requires society, not individuals. I get the idea that we’re really taking about a focus on people, here. As opposed to say structure, hierarchy, process, or what have you.
  • Give. Not so much give as in charity or largesse, but give as in make available, enable.
  • Them. Shades of them and us? Unfortunate choice of pronoun.

With a free hand, and the awesome benefit of hindsight, I might represent this principle thusly:

“We accept that collaborative knowledge-work proceeds best when we place people at the core of our focus.
We recognise that people do best within a supportive environment,
where needs are shared and attended to by all.”

How might you rephrase this principle?

– Bob



  1. wivani said:

    “What is essential is that it not be toxic ..” definitely got my attention. It seems to fit right in with the terminology used when people talk about burn-out, and how the organization plays a big part in people moving towards and eventually falling into a burn-out. Energy-draining is what I’ve heard it called, and that’s exactly the effect that (slow) toxins often have.

  2. Paul Beckford said:

    Hi Bob,

    You may have noticed that I’ve found it difficult to buy-in to your call to arms with respect to organisational therapy. Well this post describes exactly why. The 12th principle has it happens shows remarkably deep insight by the AM signatories, especially given that they only had two days.

    In my experience the vast majority of organisations out there simply do not share this as a principle. I can say this with some confidence because I once worked for a company that did:

    Now if I’m correct, then “Agile as intended” and I will also say “organisational therapy” simply won’t work in most instances. Instead we will end up with what we mostly see today, which is “Agile as generally practiced”, which is a very different beast 🙂

    Here is my reasoning. To buy-in to the 12th principle means accepting that empowering and enabling workers is a good thing. Well from the perspective of the person(s) who owns the company, it may not seem like a good thing at all. For example, workers that are empowered are also workers you now depend upon, and cannot easily replace. These key workers may eventually demand a share in “ownership”, and a larger say in how the organisation is run. After all, the organisation is now as much theirs as it is yours, and given your dependency upon them, such demands would be very difficult to resist.

    So from the point of view of the “owner”, empowered workers might be deemed a direct threat. This is why companies use techniques like “divide and conquer”, and “command and control” to keep workers in their place.

    The downside of these strategies of course are that they demotivate and lead to less effective outcomes. So some employers are seeking out alternative psychological mechanisms to some how “reward” their people, whilst still retaining much control and withholding much autonomy.

    This is the dilemma I think we face as change agents, and any change approach that doesn’t acknowledge this dilemma is likely to fall foul of it IMHO (like Agile mostly has).


    • Hi Paul,

      Whether you buy into my call to arms with respect to organisational therapy or not, no one, yourself included, has proposed any other means for addressing the organisational psyche / collective mindset / memeplex transitions.

      This speaks to some number of possibilities;
      1) Organisations (a.k.a. execs, senior managers) are not interested in being effective.
      2) People would rather stick with their existing (pathogenic) beliefs than consider adopting new (replacement) ones.
      3) Owners value owning (and the associated illusions of control) over e.g. making money or other goals (cf Goldratt).
      4) People do not believe that collective mindset has much if any connection with business success.

      I suspect all of the above are true, to some extent.

      I posit Organisational Therapy as an approach suited to those (very?) few organisations that do not suffer these pathologies. I am coming to suspect that “very few” may mean zero.

      Still, I continue to pursue what I believe to be right (morally, logically and emotionally).

      – Bob

  3. Paul Beckford said:

    Hi Bob,

    “I posit Organisational Therapy as an approach suited to those (very?) few organisations that do not suffer these pathologies. I am coming to suspect that “very few” may mean zero.”

    I wouldn’t say zero. We do however need to guide against imposing our values and principles (and beliefs) onto organisations that clearly do not share them (despite what they may say :)). Jerry Weinberg called this “The Buffalo Bridle”, you can only lead Buffalo where they want to go :).

    Having said this, it isn’t black or white. Whilst most organisations haven’t fully embraced the 12th principle, many are open to it to some degree (however small :)).

    To the degree that each organisation shares the underlying values, approaches like Agile and/or Organisational therapy become more or less appropriate.

    Neither is a universal remedy though, equally applicable everywhere.

    We do what we can.

  4. Paul Beckford said:

    I thought I had.

    Ok, let me be more explicit. It is not our place to transition the “organisational psyche / collective mindset” of anyone, especially without their consent.

    That transition is up to them. It is their mind and it is up to them whether they want to change it. If they sincerely decide that they want to transition (and I’m talking about the CEO here) then sure we can help, but we can’t decide for them.

    The organisation provides the context. We can offer advice and identify possibilities, but in the end it is their choice to make.


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