I recently read an article in The Agile Times on the seven virtues of an Agile mindset. The article got my immediate attention. I am passionate about all things Agile, and truly believe that it is our mindset that determines our success over processes, tools and templates. The article was great, and you can read it here. In summary, the virtues are:
- Truth – transparency and asking for help
- Acceptance – suspending judgment
- Commitment – never giving up even if it means finding other ways of achieving outcomes
- Respect – treating each other well
- Self discipline – holding back from weighing into disputes
- Patience – understand we do not always get fast results. Trust they will come when the team is working well together.
- Humility – not only being aware of others’ contributions but knowing we are all part of the same system, working together.
I loved this article for so many reasons, not the least being that the practices we work to bring into organisations that are ‘Agile’ are for the most part just good human being practices. Understanding them and putting them into practice regardless of the methodology simply means we are treating each other well, and inline with our very natures. Some of my favourite virtues:
We are tribal in nature, and our human brains are wired for this already. Exclusion from a tribe results in starvation and lack of shelter. And a smaller tribe is more likely to be at risk from predators or rival tribes. It is natural for us to want to accept others (and be accepted) to keep the tribe strong. We don’t just survive as a group but we thrive with a wide range of skills and abilities being accepted into the team.
Being truthful and transparent means that issues are raised early. The earlier something is raised, the better likelihood it will be resolved when it is still small. Organisations and teams who foster environments that are trusting encourage people to speak out and not try and cover up mistakes. One of the most important characteristics of a successful air traffic controller is their ability to call out an issue early. Without this ability, you do not even get accepted into training. The impact of not calling out a potential problem in this profession is devastating, but just because the impact is not as high in the corporate world, does not mean we shouldn’t foster a culture of being okay with calling problems out early.
Being committed is a no brainer. I have seen teams full of great people with no commitment fail. I have seen teams with average ability but a willingness to succeed no matter what achieve great success. We often talk about the importance of our project sponsors having ‘skin in the game’ but what about the team? Too often we wait for ‘senior management commitment’ when Agile success often comes from the bottom up, and because we rely on such flat structures, senior commitment (although important) isn’t the only thing. A committed team can overcome just about any obstacle. How committed are you to your team’s success?
The article’s reference to humility in reference to thinking as a system like the human body reminded me of Peter Senge’s work in The Fifth Discipline. An organisation is like the human body. Every part is important, and harming one part means harming the whole system. By thinking of ourselves as part of something bigger, not just an individual, our team’s success becomes our success. You only have to look at bad traffic to see a breakdown in systems thinking. It’s strange because our brains are naturally wired to think as a system, it’s just that our need to get to our destination on time (and we’re already running late) overrides our natural tendencies. Cars blocking intersections preventing traffic flow, just so they can get a few car lengths ahead is pure madness, yet we do it. Functions, teams, society all break down when we do not think as a system.
These virtues are not just virtues of successful agile implementation, but virtues of a successful human being. A successful team. A successful organisation. They not only ensure our success when it comes to change, but will ensure we thrive in times of change. We think it’s ‘hard’ to understand and put these practices into practice, and often it is hard. But t shouldn’t be. We are naturally wired this way anyway, we have just forgotten how to think that way. Our survival instincts are already wired to do these things. In times of stress, we forget what is right for us and right for others and go into some kind of crazy behaviour. To fully embrace theses Agile virtues is to fully embrace our human-ness. Let go of the crazy and embrace your natural instincts. Your team, your family, YOU will be thankful.