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The Agile Manifesto and Human Psychology

Clearing up the Misconceptions Around the Agile Manifesto

5 April 2014

KBC Group, Belgium

"The Agile Manifesto? How is it related to human psychology?"

I was thinking deeply about why a lot of misconceptions revolve around Agile, and what my marketing professor taught me flashed over my mind.

"Uh-oh. First the Agile Manifesto and then psychology and now marketing! This guy has gone mad!" This is what you are thinking about me, right? But there is definitely an interesting connection.

Let's take a bottom-up approach. First, marketing.

XYZ is a famous footwear manufacturer and retailer in India (and also in Europe). A few months back, I saw a photograph on the Internet of XYZ company executives striking a cheerful pose with a good-looking lady. That lady is not only the brand ambassador of the company but also a famous South Indian actress. She is definitely not my favorite and I am not going to waste your time by talking about her in this article.

But let's take a look at the pricing strategy of that company.

These prices are usually a little less than a whole number (Rs9.99, Rs19.99, etc.), or at least not a round number (Rs99, Rs199, etc.).

It's not just with that one company in India, of course. It's the same all over the world. (People are the same everywhere, right?) People believe that they will realize significant savings from buying a product worth €99 when compared to €100. Because, at first glance, €99 looks a lot cheaper than €100. Some people even think that they are paying only €90, but they are actually paying €100. The majority of people refuse to acknowledge the fact that the difference is negligible. This is because they use their emotions more than logic when they buy something on such a pricing scheme.

I said the majority. At least 80 percent of people behave this way. The 80:20 Pareto principle applies here: Twenty percent of them will get it. It does not mean that the others are not intelligent. They got what they wanted. But they paid more than they thought they paid. (Electronic cards help this scheme big-time.)

In the marketing world, they call it the "psychological pricing" strategy.

All right. You have seen how human psychology is (mis)used in the marketing world. Let's now see how it is being (mis)used (knowingly or unknowingly) in Agile world.

What is the Agile Manifesto?

I would say that this Manifesto could be one of the many reasons why there are misconceptions about Agile. I noticed during my trainings that people would shoot me down by quoting the Agile Manifesto. Of course, they didn't understand it well. Let me clarify.

When people see the Agile Manifesto, do you know how they perceive it? I'm talking about the people who bought their shoes for €59 but felt as though they had only paid €50. Look at their misconceptions. Look at their conclusions. Look at how others are misled.

Agile means -- No processes and tools!
Agile means -- No documentation!
Agile means -- No negotiation!
Agile means -- No plan!

Who cares about what's there on the left side, in bold letters? And who cares about what Agile "values more" and what it "values less"? They just do not see what is on the left. It's like not seeing the"9" in "59."

So, with all due respect for my Agile gurus who created this manifesto, I would like to redefine it this way: The TOP 4 are more important than the BOTTOM 4.


Let's again take a bottom-up approach.
  • Following a plan indirectly tells us that we need to have the plan. Having a plan is important. But it is at high level. It is flexible. When you are following the plan, please be aware that responding to change is more important.
  • Negotiation is important. Please do not get lost in the negotiation, however. Once the bare-minimum agreements are made, collaborate and act as one, because customer collaboration is more important.
  • Documentation is needed. But it is of no use to create a 1,000-page document without having a working solution (software). The level of documentation varies from project to project. Agree on the bare-minimum documentation required for your project, and make working software.
  • Processes and tools are enablers, no doubt about it. But individuals and interactions are more important. Bring in the team culture.
To execute a project, you definitely need all of them.

Again, please be aware -- the TOP 4 are more important than the BOTTOM 4.

During my training and coaching sessions, I always try to clear away this misconception as much as possible. I try to explain:
  • How to make a plan and respond to change
  • How to collaborate with the customer effectively and still make a contract with ground rules to be respected
  • How to create a bare-minimum level of documentation that helps produce a working solution (software)
  • How to put the focus on individuals and interactions and use processes and tools as enablers
And, most important: If your budget is €50, please buy a t-shirt for €49 instead of €59.

Also, please don't ignore Agile because you don't have the BOTTOM 4. You still have them, but you do them differently.

Go, Agile! Go, Scrum! Have fun! Success!

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.5 (12 ratings)


David Lowe, CSP,CSM, 4/9/2014 1:38:14 AM
I can't disagree with your initial statement Madhavan: people do miss the right hand side and I like your .99 analogy. However, I'm not sure your top/bottom re-write is quite so striking :)
Mohammed Naveed, CSP,CSM, 4/23/2014 9:23:18 AM
Nice analogy Madhavan and I totally agree with you that people tend to psychologically & conveniently ignore/neglect the right-side of the manifesto.
The top 4, bottom 4 approach may again lead to a 'waterfall' like methodology, which I would assume, Scrum gurus want to avoid at any cost.

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