User Stories are maybe the best known concept from agile software development. Unfortunately it is also one of the most misunderstood concepts. Let’s clear up the three most common misconceptions: User Stories are not part of Scrum, they are not tiny specifications and it is not the product owner writing them.
In order to understand agility from a historical perspective, it is important to go back to the principles of lean management. Agility in the sense of the Agile Manifesto from 2001 can thereby be seen as the application of the five principles of Lean to software development. The focus of agility is on the rapid delivery of customer value through working software. And the optimal flow for this comes from an interdisciplinary and self-organizing team that covers the complete value stream from the idea to operating the software.
Successful agile organizations are strongly oriented towards a common mission despite the guiding principle of self-organization. Autonomy requires orientation, otherwise it leads to chaos. Of course, all other organizations also claim for themselves an appropriate vision and mission. Agile organizations, however, are more impact-driven. They focus more on outcomes and measure the impact that these outcomes make. Traditional organizations are more input-driven inasmuch they try to plan exactly which input in terms of resources is needed
Agile organizations rely on the principle of subsidiarity. Decisions are always made as decentralized as possible. The next higher or next larger unit only takes action if the smaller unit is not able to solve the task alone. But even then, the objective is still to help people to help themselves. However, this only works if autonomy is given a common orientation towards a higher purpose. Constant work on and with this purpose as a guideline is thus one of the most important leadership tasks in an agile organization. And actively assuming responsibility in the sense of a common mission is the most important task of the decentralized units, by which their autonomy is legitimized.
Originally, court jesters were not entertainers or jokers, but serious characters. They had an important task and were an integral part of the court. Their foolishness, however, relieved them of the social norms and allowed them to express grievances and (religious) misconduct in a more or less subtle and humorous way, thus inspiring the authorities to reflect and rethink. Because of this “fool’s freedom” they were a social institution of permissible criticism. The separation of powers in agile organizations means in the last consequence also a renaissance of this venerable social institution of the court jester in person of the Scrum Master.