The 12 Principles Ice-breaker

by Gerard Chiva

Gerard Chiva is our guest blogger this week. Gerard is Agile Coach,  Trainer and Change Agent. He is native Spanish, at this moment based in Germany. He likes helping organizations achieve their goals by developing high-performance teams, aligning business and technology and driving continuous improvement.

The 12 Principles Ice-breaker

Agile is a set of values and principles that are expressed through methodologies, tools, practices and behaviors. If you are implementing methodologies without understanding values and principles you are not going to get much out of it. In order to avoid Cargo Cult Agile it’s good to do a reality check from time to time against Agile Values and Principles. Some organizations start by doing Scrum or XP, using physical boards and stickers but nothing seems to change, and they blame Agile.

Gerard is a firm believer that neither organizations nor teams should have the aim of becoming agile. The aim is to be as successful as possible. So, while measuring how strictly you are adhering to the principles of Agile is not the point, if you believe that an agile approach, such as Scrum, is a viable means of becoming successful then assessing yourself against its principles might not be a bad idea.

He is also a strong believer of principle number 10, which is SIMPLICITY, and I always try to make retrospective and team exercises simple and straightforward, specially for teams that are starting. When exercises are too complicated and extravagant people get lost in the process and there is no flow.

Gerard learned this simple and powerful exercise some years ago from the Agile community in Spain, but he is not sure if it has a name. That´s why he decided to call it “The 12 Principles Ice-breaker”. You can use this simple exercise to create awareness on how your team or organization is adhering to agile principles.

What you can expect to get out of this exercise?

The intention of the exercise is harmless, as its objective is to allow the team to reflect on some characteristics of Agile to see where they think they can improve. This is basically an exercise to create awareness that you can later use to invite to reflection and action.

Despite its simplicity, it delivers a lot of information which you can use to run a full retrospective. This is especially important when the team is new to each other and the members are not yet comfortable expressing their feelings openly, you can get a rough idea of what each other think about their level of “agility” that can be the spark of a nice conversation.

Some teams haven’t ever seen or can’t remember the agile principles. That’s concerning. This exercise helps you to reveal the overall agile health of teams.

When you would use this exercise?

This exercise might be suitable when the scrum master/agile coach feels that the team does not have the same opinion about the practices applied within the team. This is a good exercise to reveal individuals’ opinions, allowing a common understanding about what the others think. This is important because team members must be aligned. For example, if some team members think their level of automation is good but others do not, there is no way the team will work together to improve this topic.

This technique might also work for situations when a team wants to better understand how well they are implementing agile practices. This exercise will not solve specific problems that occurred during the iteration, but might reveal why those problems happened. For example, a team that finds a lot of bugs during development might learn that their unit testing or automation practices are not well implemented.

You can also use this technique as part of the Team Launch for teams or organizations new to Agile.

How to do it?


  1. Ask the team about the twelve Agile principles. If they know it jump to the next point, if they don’t do a brief introduction to Agile values and principles (3 minutes at most)
  2. Ask all team members to stand up
  3. Read loud and clear the twelve Agile principles. For each one of them, any team member that thinks the team is accomplishing the principle should remain standing up, but if they think they are not fulfilling the principle they should sit down
  4. Keep reading until everyone is sitting down.

Most probably, after principle number 6 everyone is sitting down 🙂

This creates some awareness on team’s maturity level. Now, it’s time for reflection.

If you use it as an ice-breaker you can facilitate a 5-10 minutes open conversation.

If you want to do a focused retrospective, after this introduction, you can ask the team to evaluate themselves against the 12 principles and select one to work during the session and define improvement actions. For this, you can use a flipchart and create a chart like this one below.


Visualizing the results will let a team appreciate where they stand. With the graphic in front of them, they can decide which area they want to improve.

Like many other exercises, this one does not require collocation of the team, as long as you have video and some kind of scoring and voting mechanism that everyone can access.

Several months later you can repeat the exercise and compare results.

If you have any questions about the article, feel free to reach Gerard on Twitter @GerardChiva or his blog.

Picture credits to: Gerard Chiva and David Koontz

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