Key Elements of an Agile Culture

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

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Source: SomeEEcards, created by jeanene1981.

What’s “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 get done around here?

In an Agile culture the answer goes something like this,

  • Things change all the time around here and that’s cool
  • Our long-term vision for the 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

Management Readiness

Creating an Agile culture does not happen overnight. Everybody in the company has to embrace the new mindset. “The way that things get done around here” changes when people change. And for most companies, this starts with management.

Are you ready and is your management team ready to,

  • Let go of absolute control and move to a more balanced approach to decision making?
  • Stop micromanaging?
  • Move from manager to leader?
  • Clearly lay out the goals and objectives for your team?

Work out the the process goals and metrics they need to achieve to guarantee success?
Until you and your management team are ready for this, things will remain the same.
For example, at Nearsoft our Noble Causse, Vision, Values, and Principles are clearly spelled out. New people are trained in them during Orientation. We use these as a framework to run every aspect of the company.

According to David Vik, the “coach” of Zappos who joined the company as the 119th employee,

When everyone knows it, 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?

For example, we invest a couple of weeks in Orientation for new folks to give them time to get used to the Agile approach to things.

But even before we hire anybody, we make sure that they have a certain amount of affinity to our culture. We will pass on people who we don’t feel will fit, no matter how experienced or brilliant they may be.

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” as you as you hit a bump in the road. Don’t yield to this temptation? Hold steady.

Help your team 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.


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