18 top agile practices

Big ideas are dangerous. Something worked somewhere some when but it will not work everywhere and always. Teams and companies are likely to pick some agile practices while they disregard others. Keep reading for a list of the most agile sectors and the most common agile practices.


Questions about agile practices

When a team selects agile practices, they might ask these questions:

  • Which are the top agile practices?
  • Which top agile practices are most important?
  • Which top agile practices are most used?

The most important agile practices

Haitian vodou altar - embodying top practicesSource: Calvin Hennick, for WBUR Boston via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 3.0

When it comes to Vodou – the top practices are far more manifest than in Agile.

I have tried to locate a comprehensive list of agile software development practices but I have come to doubt that there is such a list. I’ve had more luck with finding out which the most important practices are. Not from a an effectiveness viewpoint but from a “face validity” viewpoint [bibcite key=”citeulike:12799124″]. I have previously published a list of the top twenty agile practices that you need to use to be seen as being agile.

The most commonly used agile practices

Which agile practices are most used then? I’ve previously written about a study of the most common agile practices used in outsourcing and offshoring. Now, there is a new study that looks at the most used agile practices based on a systematic literature review of empirical research studies. [bibcite key=”citeulike:13459327″] Does that sound complicated and indirect? Yes, it does and it is. There should probably be more empirical studies and fewer compilations of empirical studies. Let’s look at their most important findings!

Agile practices by sector

This chart shows the number of agile practices used, by sector. Maximum is 18.

It’s not surprising to see that Telecommunications sector is at the top of the list for using agile practices. In my experience, both operators and manufacturers have adopted agile as part of their DNA. It is a bit more surprising to see that Finance & Insurance are in second place while Media and Internet lag behind. But perhaps it is not so strange after all considering that the financial sector is in a stage of rapid evolution as a result of new regulations and new products and challenges, not least from e-commerce.

Top agile practices

So which are the top agile practices according to Diebold and Dahlem? They list eighteen top agile practices. [bibcite key=”citeulike:13459327″] The numbers in parenthesis refer to the face validity rankings from Laurie Williams of top agile practices.

  1. Time boxing (17)
  2. Planning meeting (13)
  3. Learning loop (4)
  4. Specification (1)
  5. Daily discussion (17)
  6. Product vision
  7. Outcome review (4)
  8. Continuous specification analysis (8)
  9. Continuous integration/deployment (1)
  10. Progress monitoring (8)
  11. Delivering frequent releases (4)
  12. Validation practice (4)
  13. Common knowledge (13)
  14. Customer involvement
  15. Refactoring (13)
  16. Small cross-functional teams (8)
  17. Unattached communicative teams (8)
  18. Quality check (1)

Top agile practices – used versus desired

Plan do check act or inspect and adapt is perhaps the king of top agile practicesSource: Karn G. Bulsuk via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 4.0

Perhaps this is the real king among top agile practices – to inspect and adapt – or perhaps we just say that because it is easy to implement?

There is a big difference between the two rankings. Parts of this is because different nomenclature was used by the authors. Parts of the difference is in the nature of the comparison made. Diebold and Dahlem list what people actually do while Williams lists what people think they should do. Look at the first 5 items in the “actual” list. They are mostly meetings and other practices which are easy to implement. The items in the desired list are much harder to do.

We do know that implementing the right agile practices is a necessary requirement for success. It is not sufficient. We also need to implement a culture of respect for employees, customers and suppliers.



About Greger Wikstrand

Greger Wikstrand, Ph.D. M.Sc. is a TOGAF 9 certified enterprise architect with an interest in e-heatlh, m-health and all things agile as well as processes, methods and tools. Greger Wikstrand works as a consultant at Capgemini where he alternates between enterprise agile coaching, problem solving and designing large scale e-health services ...


  1. Agile practice without product vision or customer involvement. Question is for whom the are doping their work?

    Seems like we getting the same results as waterfall approach.

    • I have pointed it out before: whatever the opposite of Agile is, it is not waterfall. That also means that we cannot “escape” from waterfall just by applying a few agile practices. It’s fine to start with the easy practices but it is not enough. You will be measured on your TTM and TTF, not the number of practices you have implemented.

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