By Pradeep Narendran
Vice President
JP Morgan Chase & Company

In my previous articles, I addressed some issues that could pop up in Agile implementation, especially when top leadership fails to pay adequate attention to the depths of Agile concepts beyond it being just a delivery vehicle.

You and I have probably heard a zillion times about the importance of the “agile mindset,” and how that mindset needs to be adopted by the scrum teams.

Yes, change to mindset and an adoption of the “agile mindset” is quintessential to the success of Agile delivery. But what exactly is this “agile mindset?”

It seems rather difficult to come up with a solid, simple definition of this all-important phrase. Here is my definition of it: “The agile mindset is the state of mind of a startup entrepreneur that is adopted by every individual in an organization, from the bottom up.” What that means is each and every individual in the organization thinks and acts like an independent business owner of a startup within the confines of the organizational structure in its current state, and yet performs to one tune like an experienced orchestra.

The agile mindset is not achieved overnight. It is acquired by disciplined application and nurturing of certain self-induced characteristics, in a deliberately fine-tuned environment of respect, collaboration, Kaizen cycles, pride in ownership, focus on delivering value, lack of fear of failing, and the ability to adapt to change.

While it is laudable to think “customer focused,” I have in my personal experience noticed that an organization that operates with the philosophy of “employee focused” has better and sustainable results. The reason “employee focused” works better in my opinion is because when an organization operates with this philosophy, the happy employees that feel heard, important, and empowered will make sure the interests of their customers are paramount, because they know there is no business without the customer. The same logic does not fit as well, the other way around.

When an organization’s culture is designed to be “employee focused” over time, the agile mindset is bound to set in. Having said that, it is not true that an organization with the “employee focused” culture will implicitly adopt agile practices, run with it and be a grand success at the get go. An organization of that nature too will have its resistance to change, a learning curve, and similar teething problems like any other. However, once the members of such an organization understand the “hows” of agile practices, and the benefits thereof, they will perform at peaks like none other.

Agile teams within “employee focused” organizations will be star performers because:

  1. They respect. Members respect their fellow teammates; they respect colleagues at all levels and from all divisions of the organization. They respect the customer, and the product they deliver with pride, the same way they feel respected.
  2. They collaborate. As empowered, respected individuals with a deep sense of pride in ownership, members of this team operate seamlessly, collaborating at all levels within and outside the organization as needed, to get the best resources and most accurate information for the success of the product and the organization.
  3. They practice Kaizen. Kaizen is a manufacturing concept referring to business activities that continuously improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. It is a Japanese word that can be translated to mean “improvement” or “change for the better.” The two characters that make up the word are “Kai” (meaning “change”) and “Zen” (meaning “good”). Kaizen is founded on a cycle of learning from past experiences, present failures, incremental improvement, and iterative progression.
  4. They take pride in ownership. When self-respect increases, and a sense of belonging is inculcated, inherently a sense of pride in ownership is established. Members of teams that have this self-induced pride in ownership benefit by being acknowledged as a respected, valuable member of a team that represents the organization. They have an increased desire to deliver high-quality work.

It goes without saying then I suppose, that members of an Agile team in an organization that is “employee focused” have higher potential to focus on delivering value to the customer. The team is able to focus on what is of greatest value at the time, and deliver with the knowledge that others in the organization are there to help remove any impediments. Members of such a team also have a greater ability to adopt to change. They are willing to work with the customer and strive towards “customer delight.”

Such a mindset, an “Agile mindset” is the key to Agile success. An agile mindset without proper training, understanding, and acceptance of agile practices will lead to frustration, but the chances of that happening is far less if in reality the mindset exists. On the contrary, agile practices implemented without this mindset is a surefire formula for shoddy results in the long run.

So, why did I take the time to explain all this about the agile mindset and the importance thereof?

Remember, in my first article I said “mindset change” is not just a cliché for the Scrum team members to swallow and cause an immediate revolution; but an actual need that begins with a top-down shift in corporate culture”? And in this article, I say “The agile mindset is the state of mind of a startup entrepreneur that is adopted by every individual in an organization, from the bottom up.”

I took all the time in this article to explain the agile mindset and its importance, in an effort to tie the two statements in the prior paragraph together and make sense of it. In order for a mindset change to take effect, and for the agile mindset to be developed and nurtured, it is essential that a top-down shift in corporate culture take place, making the culture “employee centric.” This top-down shift in corporate culture empowers every employee in the true sense of the word, thus self-inducing an agile mindset.

Once every employee from the bottom up is infused with a sense of ownership, a sense of pride, and a sense of belonging, there is no stopping such an organization from soaring high with success after success.

Please note: The above are my personal views and not the views of my employer. The terminologies used in the article (for example; “Sprint”) are mainly from Scrum, but may be substituted with other Agile terms.

As an entrepreneur, Pradeep pioneered indigenous manufacturing of intricate machinery and turnkey plants in the confectionery and chemical industry. He also spearheaded the automation of inventory management for Dubai’s leading plastic manufacturer. In his U.S. career, he developed feasibility studies as an M&A team member in the energy sector, and organized and guided Agile teams across various federal government agencies. As an Agile thought leader and public speaker, he enjoys sharing his views and experiences culled from a broad spectrum of industries.