Agile is a mindset. Agile is behaviour.

Ahmed Sidkey’s agile mindset image is one I remember fondly from a few years ago at Agile 2014 — a depiction of the differences between doing agile and being agile.

ahmed-sidky-keynote-14-638
Ahmed Sidky’s Agile Mindset

I found it very useful at the time. After seeing it again at Agile NZ 2016, and looking at it’s linear flow from mindset to practice, I’m now not so sure.
I’ve recently talked with some people across a large program who are now focussing on being agile. I think it’s amazing that they are considering what it means to be truly agile so early in their agile evolution, rather than turning agile frameworks into yet another mindless, follow the proverbial bounding ball, process and methodology. This form of doing agile, turning it into yet another corporate process, just doesn’t reap any significant benefits in my experience.
But as I dug deeper into what why they were suddenly talking about being agile, I’ve found the strangest things:

  • Scrum is too hard, so we’ll just say “we’re being agile” and everything will be ok.
  • We’ll reinforce we’re being pragmatic about its use and we “take what works”, even though we have no real experience to base our judgement on “what works”.
  • Being agile is somehow superior to doing agile, so I’m better than you.
  • Agile has too many meetings, so I’ll just say we’re “being agile” and that will excuse us from being in Sprint Planning or going to the Daily Scrum.

The strange push of an Agile Mindset phenomenon seems to fast becoming the Descartes of the Agile movement:

“I think I am agile, therefore I am”

This logic, though, is fundamentally flawed.

“The problem with positive thinking is when it disconnects you from reality. If you have achieved your goals in your mind’s eye, studies show you are less likely to consider the concrete actions you need to take and the possible obstacles in the way.”

– Samantha Bordman, M.D. “Positive Thinking? Overrated

In behavoural psychology, we see values, motivations and intent manifest as action. When these two conflict, we see cognitive dissonance and subsequent action to remove it be changing our minds about an issue or changing our behaviour so the two are in alignment. So, if someone claims to have an agile mindset, and proclaims they are being agile, what sort of behaviours should we expect?

agile-mindset
The Agile Mindset. Zen Ex Machina (2017)

I would expect to see:

  • Teams exhibiting Lean thinking of respect for people and removing waste.
  • Real empiricism over showcases at Sprint Review or navel gazing at Retrospectives.
  • User-centred and value-centred focus in Development Teams over UX people working as a separate team or in isolation a Sprint-ahead.
  • Scrum’s values of trust, transparency, inspection, adaption and empiricism in people using Kanban, not just using the easy aspects of visual management.

Agile mindset is nothing without behaviour. To have an agile mindset means living the values through action. Don’t make it an excuse just to tick the box.
M

Matthew Hodgson

Matthew Hodgson

Founder of Zen Ex Machina. Scrum/Agile Coach. Designer of digital experiences since 1992. International presenter. UX & psych geek. Chocoholic. Loves red wine.

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