UPDATE: I have finished writing posts for all four agile values. See the bottom of the post for links.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the four agile software development values and how it would be great for all of us to every now and then stop and think what do these values mean to us and our communities. Here’s a link to that post.

The very first agile value is ”Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”

For example, author and software engineer Scott Ambler decodes this value to mean that the most important factors you need to consider in a software team are the people and their ability to work together. Processes and tools aren’t of any use if the team doesn’t have the required technical skills or they just can’t work together effectively.

Before reading Ambler's essay, I had already started unraveling the first value by myself. My conclusion was a little different.

First of all, I interpreted “interactions over tools” as “discussions and experiences over Slack and email.” I’m willing to argue that in order to build shared understanding inside your team, you have to have real discussions around user stories or mockups. You can make communication more efficient inside your team with different tools but you can’t replace meaningful discussions with them.

You as a developer should also have empathy with your users and customers. This is where the experiences come in. For example Kevin Hale of Y Combinator suggests that your developers should work in customer support every now and then in order to live through the problems that your users have to deal with.

Second, a month ago I wrote about appreciating craftsmanship in your work. After sharing this post with my friends, one of them pointed out Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive. In Drive, Pink argues that employee motivation is a result of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. We are motivated when we can be self-directed, we can improve our skills, and when there is important meaning in our work. For a great summary of Pink’s book, I suggest you check out RSA Animate’s video about it.

These three sources of motivation were on top of my mind when I read the word “individuals.” Bureaucratic processes can reduce your sense of autonomy. Tools that do their job, but are out-dated or poorly maintained, can reduce your sense of mastery and craftsmanship.

I believe that purpose and empathy go hand in hand. When you have a deep understanding of how your product solves a problem in someone’s life, you get a sense of meaning in your work.


This is what my interpretation of the first agile value looks like:

Autonomy, mastery, shared understanding, and empathy over tools and processes.

I get it, It’s a mouthful. It’s also one possible interpretation of the first agile value. I’m not disagreeing with Ambler here. I think Ambler’s explanation is an important reminder that we can’t make all teams greater than the sum of their parts by trying to invent the perfect processes and tools.


Let me leave you with a question: What does “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” mean to you?

More reading about agile values