We walk through eight dominant traits of agile culture, breaking down each one so you can establish these representations in your organizations.
An agile culture is how people in an organization think, perceive and operate in a truly agile environment.
Although complex, we can break it down to its dominant representations of agile values, agile beliefs, agile norms and attitudes manifested through shared patterns of agile behaviors, individual and organizational agile structures, agile approaches and agile artifacts common to your organization’s members.
Let’s take a closer look, so you can establish these representations and strengthen an agile culture in your organization.
Representations of Agile Culture
The Agile Manifesto expresses these values and shares and its underlying principles, but we should not stop there. I recommend ensuring twelve guiding values as pillars for agile organizational culture. Don’t confuse these with the 12 Principles of the Agile Manifesto – those principles are crucial – but, here we are talking about the critical agile values of:
If you get these values into practice in your organization, you’ve already won most of the battle.
In an agile culture, people believe in an organizational purpose, clarity of expectations and alignment of people. Executives and decision-makers must believe that operating in agile is required for strategic success. People have trust in other people and in the organization.
There is a belief that continuous learning and growth is key to success, and therefore, they need to invest in training. You need to make knowledge work visible to everyone, both to see progress and results and to control the amount of work in progress.
The agile norms are the standards people in agile culture live by and the shared expectations and rules that guide behavior in agile organizations. These standards typically involve:
- A focus on the future
- A network of empowered teams
- Rapid-decision cycles
- Dynamic people with passion
- Technology that enables
- An educated workforce with agile tools to support their goals
- Process to support delivery, but not so much it gets in the way
- An understanding that change is the new normal.
Attitudes is an important aspect of the agile organizational culture. Agile culture displays attitudes of risk-taking tolerance, learning and continuous improvement. Rather than having a “failure is necessary to succeed” attitude, agile attitudes take a more positive and empathic stance of “we can figure this out” as well as an openness for experimentation.
The organization and teams learn and develop as part of competence development, always striving to get better and aim higher with a comfort with uncertainty. People project positivity, generosity, warmth and friendliness. Bold honesty and criticism are always welcome, however, when giving criticism you should be gentle. Agile attitudes also reflect systems thinking, product-orientation over project orientation. Power and impact result in sharing, not hoarding, skills, knowledge, results or ideas.
Both veterans and newcomers bring value to the process, and the agile attitude embraces the potential both offer.
Shared Patterns of Agile Culture
An agile culture organization exudes generosity, kindness, honesty and openness. Behaviors include sharing knowledge and information with other people, knowing what a co-worker is working on and what they would need. Ideally, the agile organizational culture is adaptive toward gaining greater fluency in working with complex conditions.
An agile organizational structure has an agile philosophy as a part of its strategy. Agile structure management must clearly frame governance, policies, processes, practices and roles in terms of the vision and institutional goals they are intended to help realize. Included in this structure are stable teams formed around persistent objects, products, services and business capabilities. These teams need to independently deliver through clear backlogs of work. They also need the ability to get a clear definition of done at the end of a time box.
Setting up a psychologically safe structure is also crucial for an agile culture so that your company can realize the agile values. Openness, focus, courage, teamwork, collaboration, transparency and honesty can only emerge if people perceive the culture to be psychologically safe so that they do not fear taking risks or fail. This means setting up governance and policies in place that prevent bureaucracy while protecting the manifestations of agile values.
Agile approaches lie within its rituals, ceremonies and methodologies. They include a means to have minimal delay in feedback for quality, value, risk and satisfaction of work done, through things like a sprint review or a demo. Based on trust, rapid prototyping, constant refinement and high levels of collaboration naturally emerge. Individuals feel empowered and supported by reasonable goals, shorter feedback cycles, ownership and flexibility.
The artifacts signify your organization’s socially constructed and physical environment – the most superﬁcial and visible manifestations. Agile artifacts include information a team and stakeholders use to detail the product or service being developed, actions to produce it and the actions performed, e.g., product backlog, sprint backlog, increments and Kanban.
Intentionally building these representations and shared patterns into your organization will help your company and your employees seamlessly transition into an agile culture. This cultural mindset will set you up for successful agile transformations and operations, so you can always be ready for whatever change comes your way.