Is Agile a culture or is it only just a software development thing? What make a team a true Agile team? Why values are important? What changes are required in order to support an Agile culture?

What Is “Culture?”

A culture is not defined by framed exultations on a wall.

At its most basic, a culture is about the answer to this question,

How do things are expected to get done around here?

In our own culture at Nearsoft the answer goes something like this,

  • The purpose of our company is to …
  • I am here for my team and they are here for me
  • Our client is an integral member of “my team”
  • I live up to my commitments, but I am not a hero
  • If I can’t make a deadline, I communicate it to my team and we figure out a way to recover
  • It’s amazing how much we’ve all learned from our mistakes

Are You Ready?

Creating an Agile culture does not happen overnight. Everybody in the company has to embrace the new mindset. “The way that things are expect to get done around here” changes when people change.

So, are you ready?

  • To let go of absolute control and move to a more balanced approach to decision making?
  • To stop micromanaging?
  • To evolve from manager to coach and leader?
  • To collaborate to work out the the process, goals, and metrics needed for success?

For example, at Nearsoft our Purpose, Mission, Values, and Principles are clearly spelled out. New people are trained and immersed in them during Orientation. We use these as a framework to run every aspect of the company.

Because Zappos

David Vik joined Zappos when it was just starting (i.e., he was its 119th member) and came to be known as “The Coach.” According to Vik,

When everyone knows it [the elements of culture], they can get behind it, and then they don’t have to be told what to do.

Team Maturity

Most people are so used to working in command-and-control organizations that they need training to acclimate to an Agile culture.

At first, people don’t quite believe when you ask them to discuss issues by themselves and figure out their own solutions, what tools they need, etc. What’s the catch? Is this a trick to dump responsibility on me?

In our case, it takes several weeks of Orientation. And that’s just the beginning of the transformational process.

According to Quinton Pienaar, CEO of Agilitude,

The team members need a level of maturity and experience for them to be able to discuss issues and decide on appropriate measures. A junior member of the team will need a significant amount of help, advice and guidance to make the right decisions. Even experienced team members must become comfortable when making decisions rather than carrying out instructions passed down by management. It takes time to reach this point and the early stages will need some support, mentoring and guidance.

Lead with Trust, not with Fear

Many Agile practices will at first feel “weird.” They go counter to most of what we “know” about organizations. Everybody will be nervous about these changes. The easiest thing to do in these circumstances is to “terminate the experiment” when you hit the first couple of bumps on the road. Don’t yield to this temptation? Hold steady and keep learning.

Learn to look for solutions, not fault.

In the long run, an Agile culture will help your company do more, faster. And not just software development. These practices and the mindset that go with them have a way of percolating throughout a company and make things better.