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  • Jacob Anderson

Embracing an Agile Mindset

There seems to be a renewed vigor towards approaching the problems of organizations with the right mindset in place. While there are always practices and frameworks that will guide people in their quest to become better at addressing these problems, nothing will ever beat people with the right mindset and work ethic to make good things happen. So, let’s see what it takes to embrace the right mindset in our Agile approach to be as successful as possible.

Principle Based Approach

Even from the very beginning of the Agile movement, there has always been a philosophy of how things get done. With the Agile Manifesto and its subsequent variants (Agile Marketing Manifesto for instance), the focus on values and principles is evident in everything that is done. When someone says what they value over something else, they are making a value-based decision. I love that those things discovered have been shared so abundantly to the point that I regularly mention even outside of software products that it is working solutions that I value over comprehensive documentation. In an effort to be more Agile in our approach, we have to remember what the primary measure of our success is and that we regularly take time to inspect our behaviors and make changes to improve on what we are doing. Those principles are just two of the many that can be leveraged to become more Agile. To this end, a story shared in a recent podcast titled “How Can We Be Agile” by Lee Henson emphasized this with two men involved in a contest to chop down the most trees in a specified period that were being used for lumber.

lumber yard

One man was significantly younger than the other and felt he had the clear advantage, especially when he kept seeing his competitor take a break every 30 minutes or so throughout the day. When the totals were tallied at the end of the day, the younger man was astonished at how much more his counterpart had finished than him. The secret was of course in the sharpening of his axe every 30 minutes or so to keep it performing at its best. Too often we forget to measure ourselves in short delivery cycles where we are completing a committed segment of work and then taking that time in between to refresh our approach (sharpen our axe) and get better at what we are doing. Whether we call it a retrospective or not doesn’t matter, but what does matter is that we truly inspect what we are doing and make adaptations to our efforts to get back on track or moving the direction towards the desired outcome for our customer. Take any of the 12 principles of Agile and in applying them that’s how improvements happen.

Decide What to Do Now… and LATER


There will always be an abundance of things to potentially improve upon. Be cautious to not try to change it all at once. Some of the best Scrum Masters I have worked with in different capacities over the years knew how to best create a backlog for continuous improvement. Such a backlog can be populated with ideas on what to change and even when to make those changes. The added caution is that this backlog shouldn’t be full of gripes but ideas on what to try to become better as a team or team of teams. If you notice that your backlog for continuous improvement has things outside of the team’s control or doesn’t really have ideas to be acted upon, it’s possible that you are experiencing what is called out in “The WHINE and Cheese Party – 5 Scrum Anti-Patterns” podcast episode we recently had as a company. Ideas to act upon are great and should be prioritized for what will be done in the near term and what will be considered to be worked on later. Knowing what the next things to be worked on from a team and organizational perspective can really help to accelerate the positive change and outcome intended behind an Agile approach. Take some ideas from Step 12 of the AgileDad 12 Step Program and see what those next things are to address or haven’t been addressed when you feel you have exhausted the list of what can be done NOW.

Keep It Simple – Incremental Changes to Solve Problems

magic potion

Despite what ideas a team comes up with to enact change and become better in their Agile approach, there are still times that real sustainable change doesn’t happen. Most often this comes when the change needed hits at the core values and culture of a company that may be amiss with what Agile is encouraging from a change perspective. Knowing what can be changed now and when to wait for larger changes to happen is at the core of being a good Scrum Master. More than once in my career have I seen very well-intentioned people that couldn’t accept that some changes are not readily made within a company. Meeting the company where they are currently at to do more teaching of principles and philosophy helps to change the mindset over time because buy-in occurs from the right people that help enable companies to make real sustainable change. Philosophy and principles by themselves don’t enable change, but action upon that philosophy and principles is what makes true change come about. Enough momentum needs to accrue to prove out a proof of concept is working within an organization to make more drastic changes that encourages and even requires leadership mindset change and other significant changes to the culture within an organization. It is important to remember that regardless of how well intentioned our approach may be, “Agile Does NOT Solve Everything!” as mentioned in a recent podcast episode. It is not a silver bullet or magic potion. Over-allocation of people to projects, command and control practices with centralized decision making, political games within companies and many other things are not solved with an Agile approach. However, they become very apparent as obstacles to be addressed within the organization. The real changes being worked on within a company, even with an Agile Coach by their side, is in changing the behaviors of individuals and environmental issues within the organization as a whole to adapt so true sustainable change can take root and grow. The key becomes whether there is enough Openness and Extreme Courage in leadership to make the changes that rid the company of the obstacles preventing it from being successful with the use of Agile principles and practices. Only then can incremental steps be taken to solve some of the most problematic of issues within the company.

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