Agile Mindset & Culture
In this post we’ll talk about tips for Scrum Masters in order to create and support an Agile Mindset & Culture in organizations. Mindset and culture is extremely important for an Agile transformation to be successful. Many organizations however, approach Agile as a ‘hype’ or ‘something that will blow over in a couple of years, just like any other method’. This is such a shame!

Comparing Agile with PRINCE2 is a shame, because people are comparing the wrong things. People are comparing ‘PRINCE2’ with ‘Agile’. This is like comparing apples and pears. As explained is this blog, Agile is not a method, a framework or a way of working. Agile is a mindset, containing values and principles. PRINCE2 on the other hand, is a project management methodology, describing project phases, documents, meetings, roles, etc., etc. It makes no sense to compare a mindset with a methodology.

So, Agile is a mindset containing 4 values and 12 principles, which are described in the Agile Manifesto. Mindset also has to do a lot with the culture of an organization. We won’t be covering definitions very extensively in this blog, because there’s simply too much to say about culture. So for the purpose of this blog, we’ll define culture as:

“The culture of an organization is the way people behave in the organization.”

Ajzen - Theory of Planned Behavior
Ajzen – Theory of Planned Behavior

Some other people define culture as: “The organizations norms, values, beliefs, symbols and rituals.” Both definitions are important. What I found quite often however, is that the norms, values and beliefs that organizations have often written down, aren’t aligned with the way people actually behave in the organization.

So there’s a gap between what we say we do and what we actually do. In order to overcome the gap, it’s very important for Scrum Masters to understand that norms, values and beliefs drive peoples’ intentions, and that peoples’ intentions drive their behavior. In order to overcome the gap, we have to train, mentor, coach, facilitate and support the people in the organization. In Scrum, the Scrum Master plays an important part in this training, mentoring, coaching, facilitating and supporting of the people in the organization.

In this post, we’ll cover 10 tips about Agile Mindset & Culture. Also check out my other blogs with tips for the Scrum Master (see the links at the end of this blogpost). I hope you enjoy them!

10 Tips for Agile Mindset & Culture:


1. Understand the context
As a Scrum Master, it’s very important that you understand the context or the environment in which you’re implementing an Agile mindset and culture. This is especially important when you’re considering the framework to be used to support the Agile mindset. The Scrum Framework for example, is an excellent framework to use in complex environments for developing complex products and services. Complex environments require a different approach, a different way of working than a Simple, Complicated or Chaos environment.

In a lot of organizations nowadays, Agile is being implemented as ‘the new way of working’, which is applied to pretty much every team, department, business unit and person within the organization. For many organization, it’s very beneficial to have this Agile mindset and culture in every part of the organization. However, people do need to consider that a software department will need a different approach (Scrum for example) than a customer care department (Scrum and Kanban for example).

So, as a Scrum Master, you need to be aware of the context you’re working in! Don’t make the mistake to use Scrum for everything (use it in the Complex domain)! But also, don’t use project management for everything (use that in the Complicated domain)! Make a choice, depending on the context.

2. It’s all about delivering products (not projects)
Understanding the context is extremely important, but you also need to understand that you are either doing product development, or you are running projects. Many people however believe they should do both.

Scrum is focussed around product (or service) development in complex environments. Product development never ends, as long as the product lives. There are always new features to be built, innovations to made and maintenance to be done on the product. The definition of a project however is: “A Project is a temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering results according to an agreed upon Business Case.”

A huge difference between running a project and doing product development, is the ‘temporary organization’ part. Besides that, there is also the ‘agreed upon business case’ aspect. Creating temporary organizations for delivering results according to an agreed upon business case works very well in the Complicated domain, where there is more certainty about requirements, technology and people. It is however not so successful when building complex products or services in Complex environments. As a Scrum Master, you’ll need to explain, coach and train people in the idea that we are developing and maintaining complex products in complex environments and that we therefore need stable teams working on those products, instead of having temporary teams.

3. Embody the Agile Manifesto
In order to create an Agile culture, organizations have to understand, know and live the Agile values, which are described in the Agile Manifesto. As a Scrum Master, your role is to teach, mentor, coach and facilitate people in the adoption of an Agile mindset, hereby creating an Agile culture. Therefore, you have to know and live the Agile Manifesto by heart! When people wake you up at 3 A.M. in the morning, you have to be able to tell the Agile Manifesto! This statement of four values describes what behavior people need to display, which you can use in your training and coaching of people. Besides the four values, there are also 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto. Get to know them. Explain them to your Scrum Team and it’s stakeholders. Use them to create awareness and use them to coach and train people.

4. Transparency is your new best friend
Transparency is one of the pillars of Scrum. Openness is one of the values of Scrum. Having a culture of openness and transparency is what is needed in order to make Scrum successful, thereby creating an Agile culture. As a Scrum Master, your first thoughts in any situation should be: ‘What would be an effective way of making this issue transparent?” Transparency about problems, issues, challenges, questions, etc. creates opportunities for Inspection and Adaptation. As a Scrum Master, co-creating an Agile mindset and culture in the organization, you have to embody the idea of always making things transparent, as soon as possible. In some organizations, transparency is taken to the extreme. At Prowareness for example, all salaries, bonuses, results, Product Backlogs, Sprint Backlogs, etc are put on our ‘Wall of Transparency”. This is literally a wall which operates as an information radiator, which everyone in the company can see.

5. It’s all about self-organization
All Agile frameworks have embraced the concept of self-organizing, cross-functional teams. In Scrum for example, there is the self-organizing Development Team, which manages their own work. And there is the self-managing Scrum Team (including Product Owner and Scrum Master) that is also self-directive. In Scrum, the three roles have very clear accountabilities, authorities and focus areas. There is however no hierarchy in Scrum. There is no ‘boss’ or ‘manager’ in Scrum. This is important, since it facilitates more openness and transparency within the Scrum Team.

In many organizations however, there all sorts of practices, processes and tools for HR-processes. For example, for deciding on growth, salaries, bonuses, etc. As a Scrum Master, you are not only responsible for coaching the Development Team and the Product Owner, but you are also responsible for coaching the Organization. So in order to improve self-organization and transparency in the organization, collaborate with your fellow Scrum Masters and other departments like HR to help them built ‘Agile HR’ or ‘Agile Contracting’ for example.

6. Be firm but fair
As a Scrum Master, especially for starting teams, you may need to operate as a ‘teacher of Scrum’. In many of my Professional Scrum Master Trainings, I get the questions from participants: ‘How strict should I be with the rules of Scrum?’ and ‘How flexible can I adopt Scrum?’ or ‘Can I just do the Daily Scrum twice a week, instead of every day?’. The answer unfortunately depends on your context…

If your Scrum Team is only working together two days a week for example, than you may want to do the Daily Scrum only on those two days. On the other hand, you should consider that the Scrum Team may not have a lot of focus, if there working in this team two days a week, and are working in another team for three days a week for example. So as a Scrum Master, you should ask yourself: ‘How can we make this situation even more effective? (thinking outside the box)’. You might come to the conclusion that it would be better to have one team working together full-time, pulling the work from both teams into one team.

Looking at the other example questions, I believe that as a Scrum Master, you should start with Scrum ‘by the book’, as described in the Scrum Guide. This also means that you should apply the rules as they are. So for a starting team, you may be firm, you may be a bit more strict. As the team then starts learning how Scrum really works and they see opportunities for improvement, then you should of course support them to improve! But… give it some time though. Try Scrum by the book for a couple of Sprints first, then inspect and adapt as the team learns.

7. It’s all about Agile (not about practices)
Many Scrum Masters out there are focussed a lot on ‘practices’. They’re looking for tools, templates, techniques and practices for their Scrum Team or for themselves to ‘do’. From experience, I know that it is very helpful to have a huge toolbox with practices, tools and techniques you can use in different situations. On the other hand, what I have found to be even more valuable, is to have a deep, deep understanding of the Agile values and principles and of the Scrum values and pillars. In the past years at Prowareness, I have been in many situations I’ve never been in before. I’ve done a lot of new and sometimes even a bit scary things. What really helped me out in those situations, was to really embody the Agile values and principles, since they offer a lot of guidance. So, as a Scrum Master, learn, know and embody Agile!

8. Be a change agent
Changing the mindset, beliefs, values and behavior of people is a tough job! A culture and mindset change doesn’t come overnight. As a Scrum Master, you should therefore be a change agent. In a lot of organizations, the Scrum Master role is ‘undervalued’. Organizations consider the Scrum Master role as a ‘team member’ and as ‘a role you can do on the side of your regular work’. This is a major misunderstanding in my opinion! The Scrum Master is actually the change agent, who supports the adoption of the Agile values and principles in the organization. So as a Scrum Master, stop acting as the ‘team scribe’, the ‘secretary’ or the ‘clerk’. Start being the ‘mentor’, ‘coach’ and ‘change agent’ (see this blog for some more information)!

9. Talk with people (not about them)
As a Scrum Master, you are a ‘servant leader’. The ‘servant’ part means that you are serving people through training, mentoring, coaching and facilitating, in order to get a little bit better every day. The ‘leader’ part means that you are leading people, by teaching them Professional Scrum and by coaching them on Agile values and principles. Since you are a ‘leader’, you will have to show people the way. You will have to display example behavior for people to follow. This goes for pretty much everything of course. One thing though I’ve found to be extremely important is that you show people that they should talk with each other, instead of about each other. Some killer sins for Scrum Masters are to talk about people at the coffee machine, or to talk with management about individual performance for example. Doing such things reduces trust, courage, openness and respect in the Scrum Team. So instead, find ways to talk with the people in your team, for example during the Sprint Retrospective. Make sure issues between team members become transparent and coach and facilitate the Scrum Team in working these issues out instead!

10. It’s you who makes Agile successful
Everyone is involved in making an Agile transformation successful. Management needs to show support to and embrace the Agile values and principles, they have to support self-organization and find other ways for maintaining a certain level of control. Employees have to embrace the Agile values and principles as well, they have to be open about a new way of working, they have to be open to doing experiments and they have to be open and transparent about what is going on. And of course, the Scrum Master also has a major impact on the Agile transformations’ success. As a servant leader, as a change agent, you have to show and lead the way. So embrace these tips shared and make it a huge success!

So, these are the 10 tips for Scrum Masters on the topic of Agile Mindset & Culture! I hope you enjoyed them and that they’ll help you in becoming a better Scrum Master!

Also check out these other tips for Scrum Masters!
Holy Guacamoly! Are there even more tips for Scrum Masters? Yes there are! We’ve described 60 more tips for Scrum Masters, to help you to become better in your role! We’ve defined 7 aspects of Scrum Mastery on which we have interesting tips to share with you, so check them out:

  1. Agile Mindset & Culture
  2. Scrum Events
  3. Scrum Artifacts
  4. The Scrum Master Role
  5. Coaching the Organization
  6. Coaching the Product Owner
  7. Coaching the Development Team