Find your focus principle

This article is about an activity you can do with a team to find spots for improvement regarding agility. As an extra, during this activity there is a chance to deepen knowledge about the Agile Manifesto. Read it, try it, and please share whether your outcome was worth it!

What you need

  1. The 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto printed out on cards (feel free to use this template: AgilePrinciples.pdf) *
  2. A flip chart or wall, if you can’t stick the cards to a wall just use the floor
  3. About 30 minutes with your team for this activity

How to play

The goal is to have a distinctly ordered list of the agile principles. The most important part is to ask the best question, which we found to be “how big is our demand of improvement regarding this principle?”, because it makes people think about their situation and yields actionable insights. DSC00895

  1. Start with a random principle, discuss what it means and how big your demand may be, and place it somewhere in the middle.
  2. Pick the next principle, discuss what it means and sort it relatively to the other principles. Use bubble sort or any other algorithm, I tend to propose a position depending on the discussion and move from there by comparison.
  3. Repeat at 2. until all cards are sorted.

Now that all cards are set, consider the card on top: this is the most needed and most urgent principle you should work on, so prepare to get into “generate insights”:

  • DSC00906does everyone still agree?
  • how do you feel about it?
  • what are the reasons there is the biggest demand for change here?
  • should you compare to the second or third most important issue again?
  • if someone would now rather choose the second position, why?

Put up the result up in the team space. This way, everyone can always re-check and start a conversation about them. You can also get it back into another retrospective to see what changed after measures for the first insight were done. As with any retrospective, it is very important to follow up on measures.


In this activity, you sort the principles along one dimension, the question “how big is our demand of improvement regarding this principle”. You could add another dimension “urgency” or “effort”, so that as a result you get a map of principles with most demanded and urgent or easy to fix principles on the top right. But then, how do you estimate effort without even thinking about measures first, and why should urgency be so much different to demand? This modification didn’t help us, but maybe it helps you.

A better modification might be to sort only the top three principles. Compare each picked principle with the current top three, and if it does not yield more demand of improvement, don’t spend your time deciding whether it is on position 10 or 11. You might lose some insights on what people actually think about these principles, probably also letting down on the educational aspect of the activity. Still, having focus on the top principles should be fine.


Retr-O-MatNo team is perfect, we all know that. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all strive for better agility, because we believe that iterative software delivery in close contact with the customer is a better way of building actually valuable software than waterfallishly keeping progress (or lack thereof) secret until the time frame for learning how to do it better is long gone. In agile teams we do retrospectives in regular intervals to identify measures on how to improve our team performance.

It is important to not do the same retrospective over and over again. It is very valuable to try different formats every now and then, to let the team take different view points and identify different impediments. Diversity is your friend! An excellent resource to find new things to do at retrospectives is the Retromat by Corinna Baldauf. It not only helps to be inspired for new activities to try in retrospectives, it even let’s you design whole plans for retrospectives and share these with your colleagues.

Agile ManifestoThis article describes the “Find your focus principle” activity. The goal is to identify a teams weakest spot regarding the principles of the agile manifesto. A sub goal is to make the team aware of these principles. While the 4 values of the agile manifesto are quite present and understood by most of the people I worked with, the 12 principles seem to be a list of things one might consider once in a while. Some people call these principles “the better manifesto” (although being part of the original one), so take your time to consider them.

This activity covers the “gather data” part of a retrospective and shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes. You can combine it with any activity for setting the stage, generating insights, deciding what to do, and closing the retrospective. If you need ideas on how to do that, either use the Retromat or read the book on Agile Retrospectives by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen.


* We found it useful to put a catch phrases on each card which is easier to read from a distance than the whole text of the principle. It is important to not confuse the tag line with the principle itself, it just makes the card easier to handle (read / talk about). Thanks a lot to the participants of the Retrospective Facilitators Gathering 2016 for feedback on the catch phrases!

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