Why Scale Agile – Part three – The Agile Mind

Part three – The Agile Mind

Part one of this series is about visibility and Part two is about Business Value.

Source: From the heart

The Agile Mindset is the illusive driver from which all of the process, practices, tools and values come from. The Agile Mindset is like that Jedi force which we all seek to achieve but seems hard to define. Everything Agile springs from the Agile Mind, like life from the building blocks of DNA.

Without the Agile Mind, agile is an illusive set of seemingly unrelated surface level practices that are easy to understand and almost impossible to make work.

If you thought that when you asked your teams to ‘do agile’ all they had to do was follow a documented process and you would get a load of benefits out the other end, then you are in for a rough ride. Agile doesn’t work like that.

As coaches, transferal of the Agile Mindset is the secret (or not so secret) agenda that you work towards, even though as a coach you may be employed to get people sprinting, or improve customer satisfaction, or save money or whatever. Without transferal of the Agile Mind, when you leave, Agile will start to fail again.

What is the Agile Mind?

How do explain a state of mind? We can explain the effects that a certain state of mind brings about, we can explain through processes and practices but these all seem hollow in some way and leave plenty of room for misunderstanding and misinterpretation. We must get to the heart of the matter.

What makes you turn up to work?

This morning my 6 year old son woke up at 5am and went downstairs to see if the Easter bunny had been. He has been so excited for days and he came up with the small wicker basket of chocolate eggs that had been left. He woke up his younger brother and in hushed excited tones told him all about our night-time visitor and what had been left. Both of the them rushed downstairs to have a look in true wonder and innocence.

When was the last time you woke up at 5am, not because you had an early start or a flight to catch, but because you were so excited because the day ahead at work was going to be so amazing.

Scaling Agile means the whole organisation

Doing Agile at the team level, let’s say Scrum, quickly makes visible organisational challenges. These challenges seem hard. These challenges may seem vast and unclimbable at times. However, it is worth remembering that the obstacles, impediments and challenges you face only exist in the minds, habits and culture of the people you do business with.

Jon Krakauer, climber of Everest and international author and best seller says of climbing in his book Eiger Dreams : Ventures among men and mountains:

Most climbers aren’t in fact deranged, they’re just infected with a particularly virulent strain of the Human Condition.

This applies equally to the climber of the organisational mountain.

Removing impediments in scaling Agile is about changing people’s minds. Its about people. Its about changing the culture. You can’t adopt an Agile Mind if you don’t want to change the way you think now. At scale, this means changing the way your organisation thinks. This is what people talk about when they say you must change the culture of the organisation.

If this sounds like a lot of words and an impossible task, then think again and read on.

The perfect parent

My six year old son throws his new coat on the floor by the muddy boots every time he comes in from outside. We live in the countryside and its always muddy out there and his coat will get trampled and ruined if he leaves it there.
Each time we remind him kindly, and he comes back, picks it up, and hangs it up, and then races off to play again.

Why do we bother to keep asking him? It would be far easier to just pick it up ourselves.

We do it because we care about him. We do it because we want him to learn. We have his best interests at heart and will do anything necessary and sacrifice our own comforts to look after his short, medium and long term growth.

At your work place, do you have the best interests of those people you work with at heart? Ask yourself this question and answer honestly!

Do your colleagues, boss, boss’ boss and everyone who works for you actively consider your personal and professional aspirations and dreams daily in decision making? Do you actively consider theirs? Do you even know what they are? Do you even know what yours are?

If not, if you are thinking why should I care about their personal dreams, and why should they care about mine, then you do not have the Agile Mind. But you have room to learn and improve.

Simon Sinek in his talk on WHY, which can be translated into ‘WHY should I care?’ Gives us a codified reason on why this is not only desirable but essential to real success.

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

Dan Pink’s work on motivation further emphasises why this matters. Do you expect to change a culture without motivating people? Think how can you provide a purpose beyond making money. A purpose that people will get up at 5am for. Making money doesn’t cut it.

How can you provide a place of encouragement for your staff to truly master their chosen expertise? Do you have communities of practice that work? Can people feel safe enough to explore their skill, to innovate around it and share that innovation with others? Do they have enough time or are they too over utilised to do this?

Do you truly allow your fellow workers to decide on how they complete their work? Do they have the freedom to be able to meet outcomes in whichever way they feel is appropriate? Do they even know what the company outcomes should be, or are they task driven? Self-organisation is an agile process. If you’re not doing this, then you’re not ‘doing agile’. If you think in your context, in your organisation, that this won’t work, then that is what I am talking about. This is where you need to focus. Agile at scale means providing Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

Tom DeMarco, in his book Slack, gives us an ideal utilisation percentage for staff to maximise innovation and make agile possible. It is 80%. Is your organisation optimised around making people busy or on your outcomes? They are almost certainly juxtapositions.

Anthony Robbins defines 6 basic human needs with the highest need of all being the need to be part of something that is bigger than yourself. To provide a service, to act in service to that higher purpose. We spend most of our useful adult lives at work, with our fellow workers. Can we make that experience life fulfilling as well as pay the mortgage?

I believe we can. I believe that Agile at scale moves us towards this and I have seen it work. That is the reason WHY we ‘do agile’ and WHY I spend my Easter morning writing posts like this.


Agile at scale is more than following Scrum and XP at the team level. Agile at scale means changing the way people think and feel about themselves, business and the organisation.

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Read next:  What Are The Scaling Agile Frameworks and How Are They Different?

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