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Why Does The Agile Mindset Matter So Much?

Last week I started a LinkedIn survey. It has a few days to go, but the results are in!

Most agile practitioners believe that the agile mindset is essential to agile practice. It indicates that most respondents have real-world experience in environments with and without the agile mindset.

The various scrum master certifications elaborate on the agile mindset to varying degrees. They need to focus on it more. While there’s no substitute for real-world experience, the “why” of Agile is more valuable than the “what” and “how.”

Some credit is due to respondents who selected “iterative product delivery.” The wording was a bit of a trick. I purposely didn’t say “iterative customer value delivery.” Such language would have made it harder to choose. “Iterative customer value delivery” is the central “why” of agile practice. Without “customer value,” “iterative product delivery” is just another “how” -- it does not guarantee value.

However, the agile mindset virtually guarantees increased customer value. Let’s dissect why it’s true. First, what is the agile mindset? The textbook answer is:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  • Working software over comprehensive documentation

  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  • Responding to change over following a plan

Stepping back from the Agile Manifesto’s four core values, what you see here is: development teams collaborating with customers to build working software that fulfills current needs. The implication of efficiency is borne out by what you should minimize.

  1. Processes and tools

  2. Comprehensive documentation

  3. Contract negotiations

  4. Extensive planning

Unfortunately, what is left unsaid is the most important factor -- the freedom to practice these values. For product teams to work fast, they must have direct access to customers, and their leaders must enable and support their efforts to continually evolve and respond to changing conditions.

Leaders must foster and encourage the right behaviors to build an agile mindset. Servant leaders practice behaviors that are counter to those of command-and-control cultures. Without proactive engagement in the agile mindset by leaders, development teams become the proverbial hens guarded by the fox.

As agile practitioners, we must ensure the mindset is pervasive. We may not have the authority or political clout to stand up to command-and-control leaders. Yet, we must find a way through. The people have spoken! It is the most important thing.

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