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What is an Agile mindset?

An Agile mindset is a flexible way of thinking that enables people to react quickly and adapt to changing situations. Agile teams use this set of beliefs to guide them through Agile projects, enabling them to produce high-quality deliverables on a regular basis. 

Forbes’ Agile mindset definition, as outlined by leadership consultant Steve Denning, is when Agile practitioners are “preoccupied — and sometimes obsessed — with innovating and delivering steadily more customer value, with getting work done in small self-organizing teams, and with collaborating together in an interactive network.”

An Agile mindset is a modern approach to project management, providing an alternative to traditional frameworks such as Waterfall. Instead of viewing a list of tasks as a straight line, the Agile mindset encourages people to work in an iterative fashion. It also dispels the notion that anything is set in stone. You could compare the Agile mindset’s flexibility to writing with a pencil — why use ink when you can easily erase pencil to start afresh with a better idea?

The origins of the Agile mindset

It is believed that the concept of an Agile mindset is based on a 2006 book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. The Stanford University psychologist proposed the idea of two mindsets

  • Fixed: This could be viewed as a traditional mindset, whereby people stick to what they know best, opting for familiar paths rather than investigating new opportunities. Obstacles or challenges are avoided at all costs. A fixed mindset essentially means people have a predetermined view of the world and are unwilling to change it.
  • Growth: This is the essence of the Agile mindset. People with a growth mindset are open to new ideas and different ways of doing things. They do not run from a challenge — they persevere and think outside the box to develop a solution. Setbacks are not viewed as failures; rather, they are an opportunity to learn something new.

Dr. Ahmed Sikhy later adapted Dweck’s research to form our current understanding of the Agile mindset definition. Sikhy incorporates the key elements of the Agile Manifesto and divides his definition into three factors:

  • Values: There are four values in the Agile Manifesto. These Agile pillars prioritize individuals, working software, customer collaboration, and responding to change.
  • Principles: The Agile Manifesto also contains 12 principles. These Agile mindset principles focus on customer satisfaction, regular delivery, team autonomy, face-to-face interaction, continuous improvement, and a sustainable working pace.
  • Practices: These are the various activities and processes used by an Agile team to apply the Agile mindset to their workload. These practices include Agile estimation techniques, user story creation, and iteration planning. Activities will vary depending on the Agile project management framework used.

In summary, to achieve an Agile mindset, you must incorporate the Agile values and principles into your daily working practices.