An Agile Mindset lies at the core of any Agile organization.
When an organization becomes truly Agile, it gains capabilities to deliver quick and continued value to its customers. Consequently, the organization also gains the ability to innovate at scale.
We have been reading about Agile Methodology and Agile mindsets for some time now. And it’s natural that we pose questions like-
I. “Why are we talking about the Agile Mindset?”
II. “What is the Agile Mindset?”
III. “Do I need to change my way of thinking? What must I do?”
IV. “Isn’t it enough for me to adopt an Agile Mindset? Why should my organization learn about it as well?”
V. “What tools must I look at to measure the change?”
‘Agile’ is a vast and nuanced area which requires multiple articles to cover the length and breadth of it. To start with, we will focus on answering the frequently asked questions above.
I. “Why Are We Talking About the Agile Mindset?”
A striking feature of the Agile Mindset is that it moves away from the bureaucratic mindset, prevalent in most organizations, to a business culture rooted in adaptability.
This makes the Agile Mindset even more critical for small business growth as small businesses tend to weather more storms in unpredictable and volatile market conditions.
The best way to explore it is to compare it with the Bureaucratic Mindset (traditional top-down thinking) and the Growth Mindset.
|The Fixed Mindset||The Growth Mindset||The Agile Mindset|
|Seeking perfection||Seeking improvement||Seeking improvement and personal growth|
|Obsession with profit creation and maximizing shareholder value||Obsession with maximizing the value provided to customers||Obsession with maximizing the value provided to customers|
|Practices that focus on reproducing what is already known||Practices that focus on the how||Practices that focus on the how and the why|
|Avoids failure at all costs||Accepts that failures are stepping-stones and must be embraced||Failures are a part and parcel of business & life and addressing them will help us improve holistically|
|Skills, creative ability, and character are static||The right effort can help develop skills, creative ability, and character||The right effort must match the right reasons as well to contribute meaningfully to set the context for skills, creative ability, and character development|
|Criticism is often ignored||Criticism is a thing to learn from||Criticism along with context and problem-solving is the motive|
But what makes ‘Agile Mindset’ unique?
- Agile Mindset is a set of values, principles, and practices held by everyone in the organization.
- It is important for small business owners who want to experience growth in competitive environments.
- It is focused on changing our behavior. It is about the drive to learn, to continuously improve existing skills, and add new skills as well.
- It is about the drive to become a part of an Agile team and organization.
- Agility in a process is always ‘work in progress’ (WIP).
- Put simply, it is collective thinking, held in common, by everyone in an organization.
II. “What is the Agile Mindset?”
Let’s take a look at the Agile Onion to explain the Agile Mindset.
As illustrated in the image above, the larger the layer/ circle, the more powerful, intangible, and less visible the part is. The Agile Mindset is the outermost layer and within it lie all other components of an Agile Organization.
It is, thus, the most significant component but also the least understood and most difficult to attain. In any given business, processes & tools are the most visible and tangible assets and they draw our attention to them.
This is something we have observed across most organizations.
Agile, however, takes a different route.
The path to the Agile Mindset starts with-
- Acceptance of the Idea,
- Understanding its Values,
- Understanding its Principles,
- Applying Value & Principles in Practice, and
- Using the right Tools and Processes to track, manage implementation as well as challenges.
Point to note- Agile Mindset is not about 1 specific component or action to be taken; It’s overarching school of thought that should govern all your decisions and actions.
Small business growth happens when you adapt the right mindset to suit the business, expectations, and growth plans.
Point to note- As you read this, you may find yourself practicing any of the mindsets mentioned below-
- The Agile Mindset
- The Growth Mindset
- The Waterfall Mindset
- The Lean Mindset
- The Follower Mindset
- The Fixed Mindset
None of these mindset types, including Agile, are perfect or propose the right formula to solve all your problems. You will have to choose a mindset that you feel is right for you and your business and then propagate it across the organization.
While all of them have faced criticism at various levels, the Agile and Growth Mindsets have proven more successful and comprehensive than the rest.
III. “Do I Need to Change My Way of Thinking? What Must I Do?”
It depends on how happy you are with where your business is at and what your growth plans are.
Now, even if you are on the right path, it doesn’t hurt to look at alternate mindsets and approaches. First, let’s take a look at the Values that define the Agile Mindset as mentioned in the Agile Manifesto-
- Employees and Interactions with them takes precedence over Processes and Tools.
- Working Product/Service takes precedence over Comprehensive Documentation.
- Customer Collaboration & Satisfaction takes precedence over Contract Negotiation.
- Responding to Change takes precedence over Following a Defined Plan.
Compared to the bureaucratic mindset and value, Agile Values are employee- & customer-centric, and iterative. Nothing illustrates Agile Values better than the tagline-
“Make the idea fit the team rather than the other way around.”
The Agile Manifesto goes on to offer Agile Principles to guide users towards Agile Mindsets. The Principles describe a new cultural approach to bring Agility into the business. Let’s take a quick look at Agile Principles as mentioned in the Agile Manifesto*-
- Customer Satisfaction through Early and Continuous Product/Service Delivery.
- Accommodate Changing Requirements throughout the Development/Innovation Process.
- Frequent Delivery of working Products/Services & Parts Thereof.
- Collaboration between Business Stakeholders and Customers throughout the project.
- Support, Trust, and Motivate all people involved.
- Enable Face-to-Face Interactions.
- Working Products/Services are the Primary Measure of Progress.
- Agile Processes to Support a Consistent Development Pace.
- Attention to Technical Detail and Design enhances agility.
- Self-organizing Teams encourage Great Architectures, Requirements, and Designs.
- Regular Reflections on how to become more effective.
* While the updated version contains 26 Principles; here we address the original 12.
Agile Values & Principles intend to align users with small business growth needs. As a result, the Agile Mindset has grown in popularity (not use), especially in the software industry.
IV. “Isn’t It Enough for Me to Adopt an Agile Mindset? Why Should My Organization Learn About It as Well?”
Agile Values & Principles drive us to a focused approach and disciplined way of working. The shift then is significant, moving from a linear way of thinking (a.k.a. Waterfall) to pathways that are iterative, interactive, and customer-centric.
In other words, for a business to be truly agile, the shift must be cohesive and comprehensive.
Change must be felt from the top to the bottom rung. Such a change will include (depending on your company size)-
- Managers & Team Leads
- All delivery teams
It is not good enough for Business Leaders to adopt Agile Mindsets while the rest stay on linear growth paths. This explains why most small businesses never showcase lasting impact.
The key reason being, process change was made without a change at a deep, fundamental level of thinking and perspective.
Only by addressing the bureaucratic mindset, can reforms be consistent and mutually reinforcing, reinventing, to suit the organization’s goals.
Here are some Best Agile Practices to bind Agile Principles with Agile Tools-
- When a project is successful, spread the word to other parts of the organization and share why Agile Practices work.
- Facilitate learning and knowledge sharing.
- Enable high levels of autonomy at an individual level so they can enable set boundaries and learn at their own pace.
- Leaders must align with the functional expectations of teams rather than force-fit them.
- Get everyone in the team to work together as a cohesive unit.
This is how Agile Practices work-
- The first attack is on the ideology- Agile Mindset drives a business to focus on the customer and not profits.
- The second attack is on architecture- Agile Mindset drives a business to focus on self-organization of teams to draw on their full talents and not whims & fancies.
- The last attack is on the dynamics of existing networks- Agile Mindset drives a business to operate a network that prioritizes focuses on putting competence ahead of authority and not the other way round.
Traditional top-down bureaucratic approaches are so deeply ingrained within us that it takes courage and a complete shift in ideology, architecture, and networks to change the processes.
V. “What Tools Must I Look at to Measure Change?”
Agile Tools must provide processes as well as Metrics to help measure implementations and process efficiency. As one of the bases of Agile is ‘work in progress’, the idea is to continuously monitor improvement and not as separate exercises.
Moreover, Agile Tools & Metrics can help individuals identify, without much effort, where they are performing best, and identify gaps that require focus.
Types of Agile Tools & Metrics-
1. Scrum- Focus on the predictability of product/service delivery to customers. The entire project is broken down into short sprints that can vary between 1 week to 4 weeks.
Common Scrum Metrics– Net Promoter Score (NPS), Burndown Chart, & Team Velocity.
2. Kanban – Focus on prioritizing work and the process of getting things done where the workflow is visualized. Unlike Scrum, there are no time-boxed sprints.
Common Kanban Metrics- Cumulative Flow, Throughput, WIP, & Control Chart.
3. Lean- Focus on the flow of value from the organization to its customers. Lean also helps eliminate wasteful activities as development cycles are short, teams are small, & roles are pre-defined.
Common Lean Metrics- Cycle Time, Lead Time, Wait Time, Escaped Defects & Failed Releases.
4. Bimodal- Two teams work independently where one team uses traditional tools & metrics while the other uses Agile. Team 1 works on maintenance or running existing engines and Team 2’s focus is on ideation & innovation.
The Agile Mindset for Business Excellence
The Agile Mindset can transform an organization’s culture incrementally and iteratively. This is why the path can be long and drawn.
The ‘thing’ that makes the Agile Mindset stand out is the importance it gives to human intelligence; Intelligence that is naturally geared to drive value. And a sales CRM software can be a great tool to help a small businesses, like yours, scale with expertise.
Rather than using the limitedness of the Bureaucratic Mindset, the Agile Mindset makes the system more democratic, safer, collaborative, and primed for innovation.