Agile Mindset – What Exactly Is an Agile Mindset and Why Is It so Important?
The success of agile teams or even entire agile companies is not exclusively due to the application of agile techniques, practices and methods, but above all to a certain attitude, way of thinking and behavior of both the individual and the entire team – the so-called “agile mindset” (Ozkan et al. 2020). And the agile mindset is an essential success factor in an agile transformation. In this post, I’d like to explain in more detail why this is so.
What is an agile mindset? According to Miller & Gaida (2019), the agile mindset describes an individual’s understanding of values that has been shaped by agile values and principles, which enables them to allow for uncertainty, to deal constructively with change, and to accept that change is permanent. This understanding of values leads to agile behavior patterns and thus defines the basic attitude that is necessary for successful agile collaboration (Schmid, 2021). Metaphorically speaking, the agile mindset can be understood as a kind of compass that changes the behavior of individuals and ultimately also work systems in the company. If enough individuals adopt the agile mindset, an agile culture is formed.
According to Breidenbach (2020), an agile mindset is characterized by traits and ideals that are shared by individuals:
- Commitment: Commitment and dedication are the basis of successful cooperation. Only when everyone works together reliably can added value be created for the customer by combining the strengths of the individuals.
- Simplicity: The process of developing products and services should be as simple as possible and as complex as necessary. A simple product development process creates clarity for all process participants and allows the focus to be placed on creativity and customer understanding.
- Feedback: Targeted and constructive feedback supports the development of each team member, but also the development of the team. Everyone should be able to give and request feedback, which is celebrated in particular in the agile context, for example, in the context of retrospectives. A transparent and constructive approach to feedback and errors promotes appreciative communication and contributes to a healthy feedback culture.
- Transparency: Each team member should communicate concerns transparently and be open to the concerns of others. This openness fosters trust within the team and ultimately effective communication and collaboration.
- Respect: Everyone meets as equals, working together toward a common vision and a common goal. Cooperation is characterized by appreciation for each other’s abilities and commitment.
Firmly linked to the ideals of the agile mindset is the effect it has on the entire company when employees cultivate such a mindset. As briefly mentioned at the beginning, the agile mindset is a decisive factor for the agility of the entire company. Only when employees have internalized the agile way of working can a holistic agile transformation of the overall company take place (Ozkan et al., 2020). This is because the success of the agile way of working depends on the interaction of external work structures (the application of agile methods) and the internal structures of the individual (internalization of the agile way of working by adapting an agile mindset) (Eilers et al. 2020). If agile ways of working are introduced without employees understanding and sharing the ideals on which this way of working is built, resistance to the new methods easily arises because the effort required to change behavior cannot be understood and is thus perceived as unjustified. Even if agile methods are applied, no real agility can emerge without the corresponding agile mindset, since rigidly working through a checklist does not lead to living agile values and principles and thus achieving greater flexibility and customer centricity in the company. Thus, the exclusive application of agile methods is not sufficient to realize the desired benefits of the agile way of working.
But how can an agile mindset be cultivated? Basically, although activities controlled by the company can have a formative character on the mindset, an agile mindset cannot be imposed. However, the following factors can support companies in cultivating it (Breidenbach, 2020; Miler & Gaida, 2019):
- Analysis of the existing mindset and outlining of the agile “target mindset”:
Workshops and interviews with employees can be used to analyze the mindset established in the company to date. Here, it can also be worked out together which ideals are desirable for an agile way of working and thus for an agile mindset in the organization and how these can be established. For example, by creating a common feedback culture with clear norms and established rules a framework for the development of the ideal of feedback can be provided.
- Managers should lead by example:
As is so often the case with topics related to agile working, managers shape the attitudes of other team members. It is important here that leaders have internalized the ideals of an agile mindset themselves, actively live them, and support their employees in adapting them as well. For example, by creating an environment of psychological safety, managers can encourage employees to talk openly about mistakes and failures, reflect on them together and learn from them. One way managers can do this is by talking about their own mistakes and failures. You can also read more about what an agile leadership style looks like in our blog post “Agile Transformation Requires Agile Leadership“.
- Creating a transparent environment:
A transparent corporate environment in which information, such as performance indicators, is openly shared with all employees promotes the growing together of different individuals and teams as a single unit. One of the factors contributing to this is the role model function of management, which promotes the desired behavior – in this case open communication within and between teams – by setting an example. In addition, the transparent handling of feedback and failures through the trust expressed therein creates a respectful communication culture.
Cultivating an agile mindset does not happen overnight, but it is of enormous importance when it comes to reaping the benefits of an agile way of working – increased flexibility, innovation, productivity and customer centricity. Only when agile methods are applied by teams with an agile mindset can the full potential of agility unfold.
 The text section contains only those of the 7 ideals mentioned by Breidenbach (2020) I personally found most important.
Breidenbach (2020). Das richtige agile Mindset für Ihr Unternehmen. Das richtige agile Mindset für Ihr Unternehmen – IW Medien
Eilers, K., Simmert, B., & Peters, C. (2020, December). Doing Agile vs. Being Agile-Understanding Their Effects to Improve Agile Work. In International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS).
Ozkan, N., Gök, M. Ş., & Köse, B. Ö. (2020, September). Towards a Better Understanding of Agile Mindset by Using Principles of Agile Methods. In 2020 15th Conference on Computer Science and Information Systems (FedCSIS) (pp. 721-730). IEEE.
Me&Company (2020). Agile Mindset: Warum Agilität nur mit Haltung funktioniert. Agile Mindset: Warum Agilität nur mit Haltung funktioniert (me-company.de)
Miler, J., & Gaida, P. (2019, September). On the agile mindset of an effective team–an industrial opinion survey. In 2019 federated conference on computer science and information systems (fedcsis) (pp. 841-849). IEEE.
Schmid (2020). Das Fundament für Agilität: Agiles Mindset. Das Fundament für Agilität: Agiles Mindset – DGQ Blog
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