Value is What You Like

This content is syndicated from by Ron Jeffries. To view the original post in full, click here.

In the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, Robert Pirsig’s protagonist, “Phaedrus” is exploring the idea of Quality. At one point he reaches the statement: “Quality is what you like”. 

In Agile Software Development — as in many other realms — we consider the notion of “value”. We make decisions about what to do, or what not to do, based on “value”. We do things sooner if they are of higher “value”, later if their “value” is lower. What do we mean by value?

Value is what you like.

You may at first feel that this statement is too Zen, or that it has no meaning at all. Let’s explore here what we might mean by value, and how we work with it. My aim is to help you see that value is in fact, what you like.

Agile methods ask us to choose the order in which we do things based on “value”. Sometimes we might say “business value”, or “customer value”, as if these qualifications helped. In a way, they do help, because they may cause us to think about things we value in terms of “good for the business” or “good for the customer”. But these are far from the only kinds of value we might consider. Let’s look at just a few more.

We might be choosing a strategic direction for our product. We decide that we need information about what users would prefer, so we produce some prototypes of the product and show them to potential users.

We value information.

Our product might be aimed at saving lives: perhaps it helps us ship vaccines around the world quickly. We decide to choose our next features based on the number of lives saved by that features.

We value human life.

Our company might be running out of cash. We decide to get some venture capital and to produce a sample product quickly, to show to the would-be investors.

We value capital. We value company survival. We value the ability to help the customers we may someday have if we stay in business.

Our product might be too slow. Customers are using alternatives because they do not like the speed of our product. We decide to defer features to speed up the software.

We value product speed.

Our progress might be too slow, taking too long to get things done. We decide to defer features to clean up the software, so that we can develop faster.

We value rapid progress.

Our product might display funny cat pictures. Our purpose might be to give people a smile, a bit of happiness in their day.

We value people’s happiness.

We value joy. We value creativity. We value collaboration. We value money. We value revenue. We value the ability to keep working. We value the ability to be with people we care about, doing things we care about. We value human life, or even kitty life.

These are just a few of the things that make up value. The problem of the “Product Owner”, of management, of all the people who decide what we should do next, is to look deeply at the many things we value, and to choose a sequence of development that gives us the best possible result in return for our time, money, and effort in building our product.

It would be nice if it were easier. It would be nice if we could just say “Value is revenue over the next 90 days”, or “Value is what the VP of Sales wants”. It might even work for some people, some companies, sometimes. But no such definition will work for everyone, and in my opinion, it won’t work very well for anyone. If we are to survive as a company or as individuals, we need to look deeply at value, and to choose the things that matter, among all the things we might do.

Choosing value is choosing what matters, to you.

Value … is what you like.

Leave a Reply

What is 8 + 7 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
Please do this simple sum so I know you are human:)

There are 101 ways to approach anything.
To find the best way, sometimes you need expert help

What People Say

“Kelly revolutionised the way our digital department operated. A true advocate of agile principles, he quickly improved internal communication within our teams and our internal clients by aligning our business and creating a much enhanced sense of transparency in the decisions the business was making. Kelly also introduced a higher sense of empowerment to the development teams...”


“Kelly’s a leading program director with the ability to take charge from day one and keep strong momentum at both a program and project level driving prioritisation, resourcing and budgeting agendas. Kelly operates with an easy-going style and possesses a strong facilitation skill set. From my 5 months experience working with Kelly, I would recommend Kelly to program manage large scale, complex, cross company change programs both from a business and IT perspective.”


“Kelly is an extremely talented and visionary leader. As such he manages to inspire all around him to achieve their best. He is passionate about agile and has a wealth of experience to bring to bear in this area. If you're 'lucky' he might even tell you all about his agile blog. Above all this, Kelly is great fun to work with. He is always relaxed and never gets stressed - and trust me, he had plenty of opportunity here! If you get the chance to work with Kelly, don't pass it up.”


“Kelly is an Agile heavy-weight. He came in to assess my multi-million $ Agile development program which wasn’t delivering the right throughput. He interviewed most of the team and made some key recommendations that, when implemented, showed immediate results. I couldn’t ask for more than that except he’s a really nice guy as well.”


“Kelly and I worked together on a very large project trying to secure a new Insurer client. Kelly had fantastic commercial awareness as well as his technical expertise. Without him I would never had secured this client so I owe a lot to him. He is also a really great guy!”


“Kelly came to the department and has really made a huge impact on how the department communicates, collaborates and generally gets things done. We were already developing in an agile way, but Kelly has brought us even more into alignment with agile and scrum best practices, being eager to share information and willing to work with us to change our processes rather than dictate how things must be done. He is highly knowledgable about agile development (as his active blog proves) but his blog won't show what a friendly and knowledgeable guy he is. I highly recommend Kelly to anyone looking for a CTO or a seminar on agile/scrum practices - you won't be disappointed!”


“Kelly was a great colleague to work with - highly competent, trustworthy and generally a nice bloke.”


“Kelly was engaged as a Program Director on a complex business and technology transformation program for Suncorp Commercial Insurance. Kelly drew on his key capabilities and depth of experience to bring together disparate parties in a harmonised way, ensuring the initiate and concept phases of the program were understood and well formulated. Excellent outcome in a very short time frame. ”


“I worked with Kelly on many projects at IPC and I was always impressed with his approach to all of them, always ensuring the most commercially viable route was taken. He is great at managing relationships and it was always a pleasure working with him.”


“I worked with Kelly whilst at Thoughtworks and found him to be a most inspiring individual, his common-sense approach coupled with a deep understanding of Agile and business makes him an invaluable asset to any organisation. I can't recommend Kelly enough.”


“Kelly was a brilliant CTO and a great support to me in the time we worked together. I owe Kelly a great deal in terms of direction and how to get things done under sometimes difficult circumstances. Thanks Kelly.”