Agile, Scrum, Kanban & SAFe … just some of the latest buzzwords that seem to have seeped through all branches in recent years. While some think these terms denote a short-lived fashionable trend, some others believe they refer to our future way of working. What makes Agile so special that it may shape the way people work together independently on the type of industry?
In an earlier blog article, we looked at the Why of Agility: Agility enables us to keep the focus on (customer) value while navigating our VUCA world. Now we dive in deeper into what Agility actually is.
The answer is simple and yet needs time to sink in: Agile isn’t merely a methodology – it’s a mindset with respect to self- and people management.
While a methodology is a way of doing things in a systematic way, our mindset is a set of assumptions, beliefs and attitudes towards oneself, others and the world. Our mindset itself is rooted in our values. In other words, what we value shapes our beliefs and our worldview.
– Differentiating between methodology, mindset and values
SAFe, the Scaled Agile Framework, combines the values of Lean Manufacturing, which are nicely visualised by the House of Lean, with the values & principles of the Agile Manifesto to arrive at the “Lean-Agile Mindset”. While this resulting mindset is a useful guidance, it is more a collection of principles than values. That’s why we would like to take a step back at this point and boil down the core values & attitudes of an Agile Mindset. In other words, which values & attitudes are pre-conditions for managing oneself, work and people in a way that value is optimised for everybody involved?
The following is a comprehensive list of values & attitudes that comprise the Agile mindset (as opposed to the values of traditional waterfall management):
These values & attitudes are the essence of an Agile Mindset that underpins an Agile culture. While most people seem to think that Agile is solely an umbrella term for value delivery frameworks based on agile values, such as Scrum or Kanban, Agile actually is that set of values. What makes it so difficult to wrap our minds around the difference between Agile and traditional management is that the Agile Mindset actually requires a paradigm shift from the classical logic underpinning top-down management to a logic that fosters self-organisation and trust. In other words, Agile is not just about plugging in a different method, but actually transforming the underlying logic. Living this logic is “being” Agile and will result in “doing” Agile on individual level, since every decision we make is based on our values (and cultural norms).
If managers facilitate this (or at the very least do not hinder this), an Agile culture emerges from the Agile mindset of individuals. While the importance of being Agile cannot be stressed enough, doing Agile may also be a good way to start; As we have learned from Synergetics, macro phenomena (e.g. team using Scrum as management framework) may influence micro phenomena (e.g. our individual mindsets) and thereby shape an Agile culture. Utilising an Agile methodology as catalyst to inspire the Agile Mindset, however, implies that we constantly need to remind ourselves that the framework is a means to an end and not the end itself:
An Agile framework is a Trojan horse that aims at introducing the Agile mindset to the company.
Based on an Agile Mindset, the afore-mentioned Agile Manifesto was developed in 2001, consisting of 12 principles and 4 so-called values, which we will dive in deeper in future blog articles. These principles may be interpreted as calls to action in an Agile context and the values refer to a comparison between what a traditional versus what an agile organisation places importance on. Personally, I find it a bit confusing that the developers of the Agile Manifesto denoted these as values, because values are really something that the mindset springs from (see above).
Since Agility embraces self-organisation, the agile leader is less of a traditional manager and more of a facilitator & coach. A true Agile leader lives & leads by example and facilitates the Agile values. Facilitation and empowerment include asking the employees the right questions with respect to what they need to perform their work effectively. An Agile leader is a servant leader who enables participation and trusts their employees to get their job done. The servant leader empowers and gives guidance, enables synergies and supports removing impediments. (Look at the visuals)
In summary, it seems that in today’s VUCA world knowledge workers may be more effective in producing value for the customer when they have the freedom to self-organise their work, together with the colleagues with whom they have dependencies. Agile methodologies, such as Scrum, are no rocket science; they are lightweight frameworks, applicable to a wide range of (work) contexts. Their essence does not so much lie in their rules but more in their values. Agile is a mindset, which continuously reminds as to place focus on customer value, employee motivation and inter-organisational alignment. There have been many case studies that Agile ways of working effectively increase the organisation’s revenue. While the likelihood is large that Agile will deliver results, such as increased revenue, customer & employee satisfaction, given the nature of our VUCA world, Agile cannot give any hard promises, nor blueprint solutions. However, the Agile mindset represents the most constructive & effective way we can go about organising ourselves together with other people to pursue common goals.
 This list is comprehensive, but may not be complete. It is based on literature on motivation, self-organisation, ambiguity tolerance & Laloux’ “Reinventing Organizations”. Moreover, most of the Agile core values are actually overlapping with the 5 Scrum values & 4 SAFe values, both of which are frameworks built on Agile values.
 A good example for applying a systemic view on a controversial topic is this science-based video on climate change.
This blog article is based on an article written for my personal & science blog.