The #1 Characteristic of Agile DNA

3028124-poster-p-dnaLast week I attended a workshop provided by Patrick Verheij, who is a board member of the Agile Consortium. Patrick explained the foundation of Agile and shared a characteristic of “Agile DNA” within organizations:

The amount of spontaneous experiments and learning initiatives that take place throughout the organization

I can only wholeheartedly agree with this statement, I find this even the #1 characteristic of Agile DNA. These kind of organizations try to create an environment in which everyone feels safe to collaborate and to share experiences in order to harness the power of collective knowledge. It’s about creating an atmosphere that fosters learning and nudges employees to start their own exploration. It’s about learning by sharing.

In this blog post I’ll share some of the experiments and learning initiatives that occur within these organizations.

Practices That Foster Learning

  • Create Business Guilds or Communities of Practice. Encourage people to share knowledge and develop their craft by collaborating with peers across the entire organization. Examples are the Scrum Master Guild, Testers Guild or the Developer Guild. The purpose of a guild is to learn and share ideas, document lessons learned, standardize ways of working, initiate newcomers, provide advice, explore new technologies, and even maybe apply some forms of governance (quoted from the book #Workout)
  • Organize round table discussions. Invite organizations to discuss and debate a specific topic. Recently I organized a round table about Scrum & Business Intelligence. Several companies collaborated with each other to shared their experiences, lessons learned and challenges about this topic. It was a highly informative session that resulted in some useful insights.
  • Visit other companies. The best way to challenge the status quo in an organization is to encourage them to visit other organizations. Organizations that are more mature in a specific topic can offer tremendously valuable insights.
  • Organize a hackathon. An event during which developers collaborate intensively by running experiments and exploring new ideas. Hackathons provide a venue for self-expression and creativity through technology.
  • Start a book club. Encourage a learning culture by setting up a book club. This enables shared understanding, collaboration and can lead to new ideas
  • Create a journey line. A journey line offers a template to capture all the positive and negative events that occurred during a certain period of time. Organizing a workshop in which people share their personal journey, can be very useful for people exploring their own destiny. It might provide insights on how that Project Manager became a Product Owner or how that Developer ended up as an Agile Coach.
  • Stimulate mentorship. A workshop like creating a journey line might lead to someone becoming a mentor for a less experienced person. A mentor is a wise and trusted counselor or teacher that provides advise on someones personal journey.
  • Provide consultation. Offer people the opportunity for consultation about their personal growth plan. You can periodically setup a market stall which provides all kind of information about trainings, workshops etc. You can also offer 1-on-1 conversations during which you discuss someones personal growth plan and offer them tailor made advice.
  • Visit conferences. Seminars and conferences are a great way to share and gather knowledge. Encourage people to visit seminars and learn from other peoples journeys and insights.
  • Have some slack! Human beings can’t be productive all day long. They need time to relax, have a chat at the coffee machine or play table football. They need some slack to be innovative, creative and most important in this context: time to explore!
  • Give Scrum a try. Of course, it obvious I mention this in a Scrum.org blog post. But really, Scrum is an excellent framework that encourages discovery, experimentation-based learning and collaboration. It’s all about constant change, evolution and improvement.

Wrap up

In this blog post I’ve stated that the amount of spontaneous experiments and learning initiatives that take place throughout the organization are the #1 characteristic of Agile DNA. I also gave some examples that might occur within this learning culture.

What do you think is the #1 characteristic of Agile DNA? Do you have some more ideas or practices that take place within a learning culture?

Barry is a freelance Scrum Master and Professional Scrum Trainer at Scrum.org. He is an active member of the Scrum community and shares his insights and knowledge by speaking at conferences and writing articles. Since 2000 he fulfilled several roles within the software development environment, these vary from application consultant, project manager and team lead. Since 2010 his primary focus is applying the Agile mindset and Scrum Framework. Barry is specialized in the role of the Scrum Master and helping people understand the spirit of Scrum and hereby using the Scrum framework better. Due his own practical experience as a Scrum Master, Barry gained a lot of experience with starting new teams, coaching teams through the different stages of team development and applying different types of leadership. Sharing these experiences and hereby contributing to other persons growth is his true passion!

  • John Brock

    I agree, however I cannot stress how important in my opinion the desire of the organization to reject punishing failure is when it arises from exploration. Therefore, I would say that Adventurous and Trusting leadership are the bi-polymer strands that make up Agile DNA.