Creating an Agile Mindset

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We have all heard that agile requires a cultural change within a company, but what do these changes really mean? Does it mean that teams need to be doing morning standups, using story points for estimation, and tracking progress on a burn down chart?

No—these tools are only part of the agile process; they are not necessarily indicative of an organization with an agile mindset. Yves Hanoulle describes this as “doing agile” vs. “being agile.” The difference is much more than semantics. Hanoulle explains that it is the distinction between “why” you are doing agile rather than “how.”

Anyone can use the tools, but how many teams truly have eliminated the command-and-control style found in waterfall development? Agile is about working collaboratively and quickly adapting to changes. In fact, these characteristics can be found in many teams, even ones practicing waterfall development.

Agile is more about how a team approaches solving problems and less about the tools used to support that approach. Agile is really a mindset.

Corinna Baldauf did an excellent job defining this mindset graphically. As you can see, she reformats some common project behaviors into the form of a question and compares the types of answers provided by a traditional waterfall approach to agile. Notice that tools are only mentioned as a means for improvement under waterfall. In many ways, waterfall teams treat members as another tool, and this is reflected in the methods of communication and motivation.

Click on the image below to enlarge it.

Agile Mindset

Agile takes a different view of employees and their interactions. An employee is expected to communicate directly and constantly, because internal feedback is as important to improving the team as feedback from the customer is to improving the product. It is a process that removes the fear of failure and fosters a culture that embraces learning.

During her keynote speech at Agile 2011, Linda Rising discussed the “agile mindset” and how learning from failure is important for the team to grow. She describes companies that have succeeded because they look at failure as a chance to learn. It is this culture that encourages innovation, not the development methodology or tools they use.

Does your company take this view of failure? How would your company answer the questions posed by Corinna Baldauf? Even if you have all the right processes in place, there still may be quite a bit of work to do before your organization has a true agile mindset.

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Steve Vaughn

Steve Vaughn is a twenty-year survivor of the IT wars. He has worked a variety of organizations as a software developer, architect, and ScrumMaster. Steve has spent the past five years attempting the impossiblemanaging software developers. He is now using this experience to act as an agile coach and help develop high-performing teams.