top of page

Agile Values - Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation

Health warning: A common myth is that the things on the right of the statement are unimportant/ not valued. This is not true, it is just that the things on the left are valued more highly. Contract = A binding agreement to provide something specific with penalties for non-compliance Contracts are not a bad thing and come in many forms. There are social contracts that guide our interactions with team mates, the Working or Team agreement is a good example. Employment contracts that place mutual obligations on employers and employees. Legal contracts of ownership that give us property rights. There are even contracts between customer and supplier that promote new ways of working though sadly they are rarely seen. Society, Individuals and businesses need contracts and they do have value like everything on the right of the manifesto values.

When contracts become problematic is when they become a binding instrument to enforce a prediction of the future and place more emphasis on the penalties than the relationship between parties. What they were talking about are those contracts, generally B2B, that go something like this;

You the supplier agree to deliver exactly what we want on precisely this date for this price or you will suffer these dire consequences. We the customer are so confident in our infallibility to know what we will need 2 years from now that we agree to the following Change Request process. It should be noted that anything produced by the supplier that does not comply with the vision in our heads, even if it looks as though we asked for it, shall be considered a defect until it can be proven otherwise.

That kind of contract is the death of agility and is no more favourable to the customer than it is to the supplier. Agile accepts change as it's what drives competitive advantage. Agile organisations are not so foolish as to believe that they can precisely predict the future in the 21st century world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). There are other ways to contract that promote the collaborative approach without putting anyone at risk.

An example would be to start with some high level goals, problems to solve or opportunities to take, and just enough information to put a rough time frame in place. The customer can then buy the capacity of the supplier to deliver on the vision knowing that the details can and will be worked out later through a collaborative approach between trusted partners. The contract is still important but collaboration between the parties is more important.

Collaboration is why humans are so successful and rose to be the apex predator on earth. In a workplace setting it is the most collaborative organisations that are the best to work for or with. Reproduced below with a link to the original blog post (by Corey Moseley at are 7 reasons why the authors of the manifesto for agile software development felt this needed to be one of the 4 guiding values for agility.

  1. It helps us problem-solve

  2. Collaboration brings people (and organizations) closer together

  3. Collaboration helps people learn from each other

  4. It opens up new channels for communication

  5. Collaboration boosts morale across your organization

  6. It leads to higher retention rates

  7. Collaboration makes us more efficient workers

In conclusion you might also say that contracts are valuable; customer collaboration is priceless. If this article raises any thoughts or questions then use the reply function below to enrich the conversation (you could even discuss with a few friends and collaborate on a response)


bottom of page