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Distilling the Agile Mindset

On this blog, we spend a lot of time dissecting the details of agile project management, even arguing over fine shades of distinction. But in an InfoQ article titled “Agile’s ‘One Essential Ingredient,’” Mike Bria reports on Mark Schumann’s wide-angle view of agile. Considering the single most important ingredient to success with agile, Schumann suggests that, beyond particular engineering techniques or even a specific methodology, the one thing that enables agile’s benefits is a legitimate shift in mindset. Certainly, this is something that many agile practitioners have already rallied around: For agile management to succeed at an organization, its practitioners must fully understand and embrace the philosophical changes it entails. Simply changing job titles or going through the motions won’t cut the mustard.

But Schumann goes on to explain that this cultural buy-off not only needs to occur at the team-level, but among managers, as well. While the three attributes of great agile teams—“correction, imagination, and trust”—are essential for teams to succeed, he argues that it’s even more important that management exhibit these traits, as well. From there, Schumann whittles agile’s most essential ingredient to “humility,” writing:

“Trust means you have to give up Control. A lot of it.
Imagination means you will have less Certainty.
Correction means you have to acknowledge that you never had Perfection to begin with.

“…the organizations that do well with Agile software development – or any other kind of Agile work for that matter – are the ones that can cope with losing Control, Certainty, and the assurance of Perfection.”

At the heart of the matter, Schumann is describing a general attitude of openness, in which management does not necessarily presume to know the right answer or best course of action. Instead, they remain open to the possibility that someone closer to the problem (that is, a developer) might have more insight into how to solve it. This is in line with agile’s use of iterations to constantly assess how to best respond to emerging conditions. Success is not the result of a prescriptive process, but, rather, a process of remaining observant and critical in order to react to reality.

You can read Schumann’s thoughts in full here, but I’m curious to hear from you readers. Would you agree that humility and meaningful support of agile from management is the factor that makes or breaks agile success?

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Comment from MarkSpizer
Time: May 3, 2010, 1:51 am

great post as usual!

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