​To be more agile, you need mindsets to change

​To be more agile, you need mindsets to change

You need to create a culture that supports difference of opinion and a willingness to try different things, says Colin Ellis

“We need to be more agile. We need to get things done quicker. Little ‘a’ not big ‘A’ – no it’s the other way around.”

“Being nimble is where it is at. Do we go scrum, Kanban or DSDM? What about lean? We’ll dramatically improve our delivery rates if we go agile.”

I hear these things over again and yet, in most cases nothing ever changes. Simply saying you need to be more agile won’t change a thing.

Sending everyone on an agile training course won’t change a thing. Asking your customers to get more involved won’t change a thing. Buying a collaboration tool won’t change a thing. Going open plan won’t change a thing.

Calling project managers scrum masters won’t change a thing. Buying a pool table won’t change a thing.

None of these things work unless the mindset of people changes and they create a culture that supports difference of opinion and a willingness to try different things.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

The key to being successfully agile is not slavishly following a process or using it to shortcut existing systems, but in having a team of people who understand the value of the steps required, an understanding of each other’s personalities and an agreement on how they’ll work together respectfully.

They accept that ‘the way we do things around here’ is continually evolving and needs to be challenged and changed. As Ed Catmull said in his excellent book Creativity Inc: ‘Anyone should be able to talk to anyone else at any level at any time.’

Working products over comprehensive documentation

The team understands that perfection can’t be achieved and that while it’s important to capture the information about what needs to be built, it doesn’t have to be a 100-page document with 25 signatories.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

They know that the customer is part of the team culture. That they are at the heart of what’s being developed and that they can see regular progress. They don’t spend weeks ‘dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s’. They put their trust in each other to build a culture that does things in the right way.

Responding to change over following a plan

They know that change is important to meet the customer expectations. That planning is critical but endlessly planning is not. That Microsoft Project might not always be the best way to display a schedule. And that managing risk will reduce uncertainty, but applying a corporate matrix to each one is not always necessary.

Companies that successfully make the transition to more agile delivery of projects and services are staffed with individuals who aren’t told what to do.

They’re allowed to be flexible in their thinking and are personally invested in the culture that they’ve built. They respect each other’s way of working and set up their space based on that. They capture the ‘right amount’ of information in order to meet the customer’s expectations and relentlessly look for ways to add extra value.

According to the 2015 Standish Group Chaos report, only 39 per cent of Agile projects are considered successful and just like their waterfall counterparts, those agile projects that fail are held back by one thing – people.

To be more agile, then teams need to be given the following:

  • Insights into who they are and each other’s personalities (self-awareness and empathy)
  • An agreement on what’s acceptable and what’s not (behaviours)
  • An agreement on how they’ll work together (collaboration)
  • An agreement on how they’ll find better ways to do things (innovation)
  • Some principles they can hold each other to account to (culture)
  • Regular ideas that further develop their thinking and skillset

As Carol Dweck said in her book Mindset: ‘With the right mindset and the right teaching, people are a lot more capable than we think.’ With the right investment in the right program, any organisation can become more agile over time.

What are you doing to help your people develop an agile mindset?

Colin Ellis is the author of The Conscious Project Leader and works with organisations to transform their cultures (regardless of methods used) and give people the insights into what it takes to be a transformative leader. You can find out more about him and his work at

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