The Value of Values

It may not be immediately obvious why values are important to success. My experience has found that values are the cornerstone to organizational success. Here’s why and how to create successful values for your teams.

To some, it can seem like business processes dictate values. This is somewhat true. A waterfall development process, by its nature dictates that planning and control are important values. Agile dictates that adaptation is key. But would an organization that values adaptation even consider a waterfall process? Values should dictate how you work, not the other way around. And process alone does not give insight into how team members are expected to interact and make decisions. Will they collaborate to solve problems among themselves and partners? Can they openly raise issues? How will they involve customers? More in-depth, shared understanding is needed to bring success.

I have seen how the values implemented with a process can make all the difference in ultimate success. As Dee Hock, the founder of Visa once said:

“Simple, clear purpose and principles (values) give rise to complex, intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple, stupid behavior.”

Insuring that the values are explicit, clear and agreed to among and across team members allows for better interaction and has a large impact on success. It supports an environment for productive interaction by providing a touch stone to ensure that motivations are healthy and that collaboration is productive throughout any process.  It allows for hiring and evaluating employees for qualities that will make them successful in the organization. It allows any process to evolve and deal with complexities that may not have even been considered when originally conceived.

So, where should we look to define values that are central to success? You could create a list to prioritize by:

  • Looking internally at values that you believe have made you successful
  • Looking at organizations or brands you admire and collect their values for evaluation
  • Creating a list of people you admire and make explicit the values that you find attractive

Once you have your list, work with your team to discuss and then prioritize to get to 3-5 (never more than 7) top values. Have the team give an example for each one on the list. Then make a value statement for each. This list is your values. Live with your values for a quarter and re-evaluate it in you next review. If you make changes, give it another quarter. When you get to where you have a couple quarters with no changes, you have a good set that you can call “Our Values.”

Now, it is time to put your values into practice:

  • Publish, announce and continuously reference your values
  • Build your brand around your values
  • Use your values as a guide for evaluating and critiquing important decisions
  • Put yourself in your customer’s place and ask if your interactions with them express your values. Change any that miss the mark. Do the same for internal practices.
  • Evaluate all employees against your values and set development or exit plans for those not meeting expectations
  • Make your values a hiring criteria and pass on anyone not meeting expectations regardless of other qualifications
  • Evaluate your customers and focus only on those that share values complementary to yours

If you value your values, your organization will find joy in the work they create together and achieve your team’s vision over the long term.

Here’s an example for how an organization that may want to create values similar to other successful agile companies. In a post called Agile on a Single Page, I suggested agile organizations start with the agile poster from VersionOne, the Agile Manifesto and the Declaration of Interdependence. Finding common ground across these sources is a good starting point for the discussion in organizations that value agility. Mapping affinity from these three sources, I get:

Agile Poster

Agile Manifesto

Declaration of Interdependence


Responding to change over following a plan

Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

We expect uncertainty and manage for it through iterations, anticipation, and adaptation

We improve effectiveness and reliability through situationally specific strategies, processes and practices


Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

We deliver reliable results by engaging customers in frequent interactions and shared ownership


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



Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation

We unleash creativity and innovation by recognizing that individuals are the ultimate source of value, and creating an environment where they can make a difference

New Term



Customer Value

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

We increase return on investment by making continuous flow of value our focus


Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.



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

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

We boost performance through group accountability for results and shared responsibility for team effectiveness


Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.


I see utility in giving one or two word labels to the similar concepts and have added them where the agile chart did not apply. Short labels allow complex thoughts to be communicated in a short hand and give teams the ability to quickly call forth values in discussions. There is also a need to spell out in more detail what is meant by these simple terms to promote understanding.

Your organization is not required to have this same set of values and statements. You  should modify or enhance these areas to fit unique aspects of your team or organization. With debate, your team might add the need for simple, timely, shared metrics to the Transparency value statement. I might suggest a social aspect to it as well or change the title of Unity to Collaboration.

You may also add to or delete from the initial list you create. Eight is probably too many values, so your team may prioritize to get to the 3 to 5 that are most important. Often others values follow from more fundamental values. The value of “Be an Owner” can, for example, include “Customer Value” and “Accountability.”

The important thing is that values should be stated, understood and agreed to across the organization. They should be documented and referenced and shared regularly.

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