Manifesto values - the word "over"


This week I was in a conversation with a respected leader in the agile community, and part of our conversation was on the word “over” in the manifesto

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

There were some others contributing to the conversation (@Dana_Pylayeva) , and I was amazed at how much we spoke about a four-letter word. I wanted to extend that conversation here and see what the thought are in the meaning and intent of “over” here.


Great topic for discussion! I just stumbled upon these words in the agile manifesto few days ago when talking to a friend, who does really hard in understanding, how they help him and his team to become better. It turned out that he had interpreted “over” by “instead of”. Obviously it turned out for him to be impossible to maintain control over the activities without process, tools, documentation, contracts, and plans.


When I do any talking about the Values, I always highlight “over” and specifically say that it does not say “instead of,” “as opposed to,” or any other exclusionary term(s). It is a precedence relationship, not an exclusionary one. I then say that the items on the right must support the items on the left or they can become impediments. Finally, I suggest that if an organizing is having trouble with the items on the left, having/doing more of the items on the right won’t really help.


From what I understand you are provoking an interpretation of “over” as an “on top of” or “in addition to”. Is this right?


No…like I said. it’s a precedence relationship as in “comes before” or as in “preferred” or as in “more than” such as stated at the end of the Manifesto when they say “we value the items on the left more”.


I believe over is the correct word because it’s subjective to the organization pushing business agility within the organization. Over could mean way over (90%) or just over (60%). Neither is wrong, it all depends on what the organization feels is the best balance between xyz over abc. I do believe the manifesto still asserts it’s purpose of “over” by assuming you are more invested/focused on the items on the left.


I like Scott’s description:

Another way I think about it is that we don’t want the items on the right to detract from the items on the left. For example, it’s not okay for processes or tools to disrespect individuals or get in the way of their interactions, and it’s not okay for following a plan to be used as an excuse for not responding to change.


I also like to suggest that if the items on the left are not working well for an organization, doing more of the items on the right likely will not help. If the items on the left are working effectively, then the items on the right will likely also be working well (or can be made to do so reasonably easily).