Jun 13, 2019 - Suri Patel    

What is an Agile mindset?

Learn how embracing change can help you speed up software delivery.

Ensuring Agile teams use the most effective strategies to reduce cycle time is a priority for IT leaders, but what good is a menagerie of techniques if a team’s approach to software development doesn’t spark innovation? When it comes to building the foundation for accelerating delivery, IT leaders have been incorrectly placing emphasis on collecting tools rather than developing an Agile mindset.

“The core of Agile is recognizing that we need to get to and maintain an Agile mindset. If I have an organization with an Agile mindset, and really rock-solid product management, Agile processes and tools will evolve out of that. If you have the Agile mindset and an awesome connection with your customers and are solving their problems, things will evolve in the right way. You won’t even realize you’re being Agile. It’s just good business.” — Todd Little, CEO Lean Kanban

There are many definitions of an Agile mindset, but the general consensus is that it:

  • Views setbacks as learning opportunities
  • Embraces iteration, collaboration, and change
  • Focuses on delivering value

Agile mindset characteristics

There’s no definitive list of what makes up an Agile mindset, but with the intention of getting you started, here are a few of the most widely accepted characteristics. Based on your team’s dynamics, your organization’s culture, and your goals, you may adopt other attributes to help your team accelerate delivery.

Setbacks are learning opportunities

Empower your team to experiment and be creative so that rather than view a setback as a failure, they’ll see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. When your team has the freedom to be innovative – without fear – they’re more likely to solve problems and add to the knowledge base of what works and what doesn’t. Taking risks shouldn’t be a rebellious endeavor — it should be your team’s norm.

Agile values and principles: Iteration, collaboration, and change

Iteration: Instill the belief that there’s always room for improvement and that anyone can propose a change or idea. At GitLab, we believe everyone can contribute and that iteration is the fastest way to feedback, helping us course correct and create new features.

Collaboration: Finding ways to improve and increase cross-collaboration enables frictionless handoffs, helps relieve the burden on teams, and facilitates a culture of trust and communication. Whether you develop new workflows or use different tools, keep an eye out for silos which can work against collaboration.

Change: Agile methodology is founded on the ability to adapt to unpredictability. If your customers or organization want to pivot soon after a direction is set, your team should be able to do just that. Any processes or roadblocks that prevent your team’s ability to be flexible and embrace change should be removed.

Deliver value

We can all agree that teams should deliver value both to customers and the organization. But where an Agile mindset makes all the difference is shifting the emphasis from the output, which focuses only on the items delivered, to the outcome, which is how a feature meets a market need. An Agile mindset helps teams creatively think of how a feature can solve a problem rather than feel pressured to deliver a set number of items in a month. It’s the whole “quality over quantity” idea.

Steps to shift to an Agile mindset

Changing your team’s perspective and the way they approach problems is a difficult undertaking. You’re challenging their long-held beliefs while requiring them to complete tasks and meet deadlines. This is an uncomfortable process in any environment, but especially in the workplace where an (in)ability to quickly shift can impact performance and reputation. Fortunately, there are a few methods to help you navigate these difficulties and enable your team to smoothly adopt an Agile mindset:

  1. Model behavior: The most effective way to help your team shift to an Agile mindset is to exemplify the behaviors you want to see. To create a “no-fault, embrace risk” environment, share your setbacks with the team and tell them what you learned. When someone experiments, praise them for trying something new and discuss the biggest lessons learned. By being transparent and showing your team that this new way of thinking is possible, you become their collaborator.
  2. Storytelling: Share how other organizations or teams have benefited from an Agile mindset. Understanding what others gained from a new way of thinking can help your team feel more enthusiastic about the change.
  3. Take small steps: After doing more research about an Agile mindset, you might get excited and feel tempted to change things overnight. Take small steps and make minor adjustments in the beginning to help your team acclimate.

What's the impact?

With an Agile mindset, teams can quickly adjust to changing market needs, respond to customer feedback, and deliver business value. Adopting a new perspective can positively change a team’s culture, since the shift permits innovation without fear, collaboration with ease, and delivery without roadblocks.

Cover image by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

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