What’s Agile? Simplicity (Principle #10)

Agile uses the principle of simplicity to support several of the other foundational principles of Agile. The tenth Agile principle is:

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

Principles behind the Agile Manifesto

Advantages of Simplicity

This is one of my favorite Agile principles. Often times, after a discussion with one or more team members, we come up with a simpler way to do something. A way that is not only simpler, but that requires less work than we thought it would.

On such occasions, I’ll often say something like “I love talking ourselves out of work.”

Simpler code is faster to write, easier to understand, more maintainable, and more easily changed to meet changing requirements. It also minimizes technical debt. And from a project management perspective, it takes less time, costs less, and is lower risk.

Simplicity support so many other Agile principles:

  • Excellence, because simpler designs are of higher quality and position you for change.
  • Sustainable Pace, because simpler designs are easier, more predictable, more maintainable, and less prone to technical debt.
  • Working Software, because simplicity allows you to deliver results more reliably.
  • Frequent Delivery, because simplicity delivers more quickly.
  • And more…

Take a look at all of the Agile principles leading up to this one. You’ll find that they are all supported by, or expressions of, simplicity.

Simplicity is a pervasive, unifying theme in Agile.

Simplicity Isn’t Easy

Easy and simple aren’t the same thing. Sometimes the simpler solution is obvious. At other times, a problem and its solution are apparently complex. Those kinds of problems require more effort to come up with a simpler solution.

A thought that’s been repeated by many authors over the years, but appears to have first been expressed by Blaise Pascal, is:

If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.

Blaise Pascal

Many people don’t put in the effort necessary to find the simplicity in a complex problem. They just accept that it’s complex.

But breakthroughs don’t come that way. Breakthroughs come from challenging the status quo.

Don’t Over-Simplify

On the other hand, you’ll need to be careful not to over-simplify.

A common mistake in so-call Agile projects is to completely abandon planning, documentation, processes, tools, and formal relationships. If this sounds familiar, then it’s time to review the 4 Agile values.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Albert Einstein
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Read this next: What’s Agile? Self-Organizing (Principle #11)

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