What Does It Mean to Have an Agile Mindset?


There has been lots of talk about the “agile mindset,” but what does that mean? It does not merely encompass the skills that make a successful agile team member, but rather what drives a person to want to be part of an agile team. It should include the quest to learn (even when you fail) and leveraging what you learn to continuously improve on what you do.


Definition of Agile Mindset


A mindset is a set of assumptions, methods, or notations held by groups of people that is so established that it creates a powerful incentive within these people to continue to adopt or accept prior behaviors, choices, or tools. Simply put, it is a way of thinking about things that those in a group share or have in common to the point that it becomes a way of life.

There are several characteristics I believe make up the agile mindset:

  • Positive attitude
  • Thirst for knowledge
  • Goal of team success
  • Pragmatism
  • Willingness to fail

To me, an agile mindset is "There is no failure, only feedback." It's about taking everything as lessons, adjusting actions according to the feedback, and proceeding toward desired outcomes, resulting in continuous improvement.

The ideal is for everyone to have what the team decides is its collective agile mindset, but that all starts with the individual. I have worked with some great people who I think embody this mindset. They attack their work with a positive attitude, providing suggestions to overcome obstacles. They ask questions to understand what is in the best interests of the business, often coming up with innovative solutions as they experiment. They have realistic and practical attitudes focused on helping the team succeed.

When looking for people to be part of my agile teams, these are the mindsets I look for. It is difficult to change people’s intrinsic personalities and ways of thinking, so it is important to get the right selection of people for your team.

Positive Attitude

There are always challenges on projects; people are human and make mistakes, and everything is not always going to go well. What is most important is how the team members deal with these situations.

As issues are identified, they need to be dealt with in a timely manner with a positive attitude. In most cases something that may look negative can be turned into an opportunity for improvement. I expect my team to recognize problems—or, even better, potential risks—quantify them, and come up with suggestions for solutions.

For people new to agile, self-management is often difficult. This is where keeping a positive attitude is so important. Some of the things they try may not always work, but they should not give up. It is easy to become downhearted, but instead, team members should keep in mind that they have learned something.

User Comments

Shayn Baron's picture

I really enjoyed reading this, thanks for sharing.

April 3, 2015 - 11:02am
Dave Browett's picture

Hi Leanne - interesting article, I would add one more characteristic

- ability to think iteratively - to know what will fit within an iteration (and what won't). This characteristic will often battle with the "positive attitude" one as it's often tempting to bite off more than you can chew - hence the need to think positively but also iteratively, especially when planning and estimating but also throughout the sprint.

April 9, 2015 - 8:02am
Leanne Howard's picture

You are right Dave, certainly when working on an agile team one of the challenges is to work in an iterative manor, but I think that is covered in the process.  Having a positve attitude can go a long way to mitigating that one.

April 13, 2015 - 12:51am
Bob Belderbos's picture

Great article!

Intuitively I knew what an agile mindset meant but reading this made it so much clearer.


June 11, 2016 - 6:49am
Srinivas Garapati's picture

Leanne, Great article. Thank you for sharing the article. I beleive we will need similar mindset at all levels of the organization, or a tailored mindset that fit to the organization. Just having this mindset in a project/program team might not help if senior executives do not have this mindset. Otherwise business will reach as usual with dysfuction characteristic tending higher.  



August 29, 2016 - 10:40am
Leanne Howard's picture

 Agreed Srinivas it is needed throughout the organisation, but especially within the team, at least the attributes that I stated in my article.

August 30, 2016 - 1:38am
Brad White's picture

I love your summary and explanaitin of an agile mindset.

I used it here




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and linked back to you.


September 29, 2016 - 4:09pm

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