Skip to main content
Agile & Product Management

As a ScrumMaster, how well do you know the Agile mindset?

The following article is a guest contribution from Brian Link, Agile Coach and Author at Practical Agilist. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Zenhub or its team members. 

You’ve heard the phrase “doing agile” vs. “being Agile.” And, as a ScrumMaster, you probably understand that you can’t just start following Scrum or Kanban to the letter and think that it magically makes you “Agile.” Most ScrumMasters have some concept of the Agile mindset, but it’s more like “they know it when they see it.” This is because, for most, it’s hard to put into words. No matter how much the Agile universe evolves, new frameworks and scaling strategies will come and go, but I believe the basics of the Agile mindset will remain and will always be true. 

How would you describe the Agile mindset?

Many would guess that an “Agile mindset” is working on a team that adheres to the four values and twelve principles of the Agile Manifesto. It’s a great start, but much of what is said in the manifesto’s principles is very high-level.

What if you had to go deeper? What else would you include? Some might turn to Modern Agile for a fresh take, an excellent addition and complement to the original manifesto. I especially like Joshua Kerievsky’s work on Modern Agile because it incorporates the importance of both learning and psychological safety as first principles. It even hints at Design Thinking, with the “being safe to fail” concept and embracing the idea of experimentation as how we inspect and adapt.

And yet, I would argue there is even more to the Agile mindset. And, while the Agile Manifesto and Modern Agile do a great job covering the high level, there’s a great deal more to learn from studying the XP Principles, the Scrum Values, Lean, DevOps, Design Thinking, and Systems Thinking. Today’s modern ways of working did not evolve overnight. To better understand what makes Agile work so well today when it’s done well, I often start with a quick tour of Agile history.

There’s a lot of history baked into our modern Agile way of working

To understand the Agile mindset, you must be aware that it incorporates over 100 years of manufacturing lessons stemming from Taylorism (also known as Scientific Management), where waste was eliminated by rearranging physical machines for humans to be more efficient in producing goods. This was also the genius of Henry Ford’s single-piece flow production system, which produced the Model T. 

In the 1950s, Toyota created and introduced the Toyota Production System in Japan, which has had a lasting impact on Agile to this day, including concepts such as Kanban, Information Radiators, and Kaizen (the art of continuous improvement).

Agile started to become more recognizable in 1986 with the Harvard Business Review paper titled “The New New Product Development Game,” where single, product-focused, cross-functional teams were introduced, and the first use of the word Scrum appeared. And, of course, in 1995 and 96, both the Scrum Framework and Extreme Programming were introduced. 

Finally, in the 90’s, when the consulting industry suffered frequently late and over budget projects, the 17 famous Agilists met in Snowbird, Utah to write the Agile Manifesto, dreaming up a better way to build software and deliver value to customers.

So, what’s a shorter way to explain the Agile mindset that incorporates all this detail? I use the following 7 mindsets and cultures, inspired by this history to help teams get a handle on it. 

This may seem like a lot, so ScrumMasters will often ask, “Do I need to have each of these in order to be Agile?” The answer is “Yes.” Along with each definition below, I provide the potential consequence of not incorporating this concept into your ways of working. 

7 Agile mindsets and cultures teams need to be “Agile”

1. An Iterative Mindset

Create value in small, iterative steps, allowing for early and frequent feedback on each piece of work, which helps eliminate waste and build better products faster. Be data-driven and evidence-based and use that data to decide what to do more of and what to do next. 

Why it’s critical: Without it, you may as well be Waterfall. No feedback means no way to learn how to adapt your product to better suit your customers during development. 

2. A Product Culture

Form long-lasting, durable product teams that reflect the company’s focus, vision, and purpose. Have a top-down vision that influences the teams’ roadmaps and day-to-day work. Prioritize diligently. Build and support only so many products and services and do them well. 

Why it’s critical: Without it, teams meander without focus and don’t understand the purpose of their work. Without a vision for the future, products tend to miss the mark.

3. A Customer-Centric Mindset

Include the big picture, product vision, and an appreciation for WHY it matters to users before doing anything. Don’t guess what customers want, be customer-driven and empirical about it.

Why it’s critical: Without it, can you guess how awful products would be if no one considered who was using them? Or if all the features were just guesses at what might be valuable?

4. A Culture of Learning

Team members share knowledge, make learning a priority, and invest in communities that grow people and skills that benefit the company. All failures are opportunities to learn something.

Why it’s critical: Without it, you will be basically guaranteed to not improve as individuals or a team. No growth means no progress.

5. A Culture of Experimentation

A Design Thinking mindset is utilized from idea formation through delivery. Instead of requirements, think of hypotheses. What’s the smallest thing we can do to learn something?

Why it’s critical: Without it, not embracing a willingness to fail, innovation is limited and will not blossom into great products.

6. A Culture of Continuous Improvement

Teams are empowered to change and improve their own process. Self-reflection, transparency, courage, and respect lead to sustainable value delivery and better results.

Why it’s critical: Without it, teams become order-takers and burn out fast, culture suffers, and employees often lack loyalty.

7. A Culture of Psychological Safety

People will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with any ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. This breeds greater innovation, inclusive collaboration, and a greater flow of ideas that can impact our products, people, and company.

Why it’s critical: Without it, team members don’t feel safe, communication breaks down, errors go up, and, at worst, the best ideas are never even shared

Final thoughts

Being Agile is more than following any framework to the letter. It’s a mindset and a belief system that has been inspired by many cultures and mindsets that have evolved over the last 100 years or more. Having a basic understanding of this will help you and your team embrace today’s modern working methods and stay Agile. 

If you are ready to explore if your team is focused on the behaviors behind the 7 cultures and mindsets I’ve mentioned above, I would love to invite you to try my Agile mindset assessment, a self-assessment I designed with these concepts in mind. 

Want to help your team be more Agile without the overhead? Schedule a demo of Zenhub to see how. 

About the Author: 

Brian is an Agile Coach and Transformation Consultant who loves his job helping people, teams, and companies. As a “Practical Agilist,” Brian’s specialty is helping others distill down the practices and frameworks of the agile universe into easy-to-understand, simple, common sense. Connect with Brian on his blog, LinkedIn, or email at

Share this article

Work smarter, not harder. With Zenhub AI

Simplified agile processes. Faster task management. All powered by AI.

Get Early Access

Hone your skills with a bi-weekly email course. Subscribe to Zenhub’s newsletter.

Return to top