If an executive who doesn’t know the first thing about agile asked you at a company reception to define in brief what it means to have an “agile mindset”, are you able to do it?
To some extent, it seems that the agile mindset should simply be: “The set of attitudes and beliefs supporting an agile work environment, so that teams can become high-performing.” That’s right, but far from sufficient. It is too vague to provide a map of how to get to that state, or to simply assess the current status and determine targets for improvement. Certainly, one could defer to the manifesto and principles. You might be able to summarize all that in just less than a minute. But what about the pillars of agile, according to Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber? What about the scrum values? Alistair Cockburn’s Heart of Agile? Additionally, there are the influential works outside of the agile community describing what makes a great work environment, and why staff are motivated to work in such environments. The concepts behind leadership styles, games on management and much more come to mind.
So you can say to the executive you were chatting with that that an agile mindset is the set of attitudes supporting an agile working environment. These include respect, collaboration, improvement and learning cycles, pride in ownership, focus on delivering value, and the ability to adapt to change. This mindset is necessary to cultivate high-performing teams, who in turn deliver amazing value for their customers.
Now, if this executive wanted more information, you could, perhaps, dive deeper into these qualities or attitudes:
Respect – Most teamwork needs to start with respect for your fellow teammates. At the organizational level, respect for colleagues at all levels of the organization, the customer, and the product itself is also key to maintaining an appropriate work environment.
Collaboration – With increasingly complex systems being built, and subsequently complex problems being solved, no one person would be able to hold all the necessary information in their head to complete a task. Additionally, working with other parts of the organization in a collaborative way will decrease the number of handoffs necessary to deliver. The facilitation of collaboration, through tools, office space, and behavioral norms, can improve the quality and number of collaborative discussions.
Improvement Cycle – No process should be written in stone. There is always room for improvement. An organization supporting such behavior would have a light hold on procedural adherence.
Learning Cycle – Allowing individuals to try something new, and yes, possibly fail, gives the staff an opportunity to learn and improve themselves. Individuals should not be dinged for mistakes, but rather supported for taking risks and increasing the group’s knowledge.
Pride in Ownership – Even if no one person owns a particular piece of code, pride in what is delivered increases the desire to deliver high-quality work.
Focus on Delivering Value – The main point of an agile team is to deliver value to the customer. The team should be able to focus on what is of greatest value at the time, and deliver with the knowledge that others in the organization (managers and scrum masters, for example) are there to help remove any impediments.
Ability to Adapt to Change – If the customer calls two hours after a meeting, and wants changes, the organization rolls with it. Any process to manage this change can’t be an impediment to the change.
This mindset is the environment within which agile teams flourish. It isn’t a prerequisite for an agile adoption, nor is it required for a functional agile team. But if this mindset is cultivated and nourished, whether before, during or after agile adoption, the teams (and therefore the company) will experience amazing results – happy employees delivering great value and making customers elated with the results.
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