Growth mindset for enterprise Agile adoption

Enterprise Agile adoption goes beyond the project level adoption of Agile to address organizational wide  problems. A strategy for enterprise adoption of Agile can expose those problems, which are to be resolved by its employees (practitioners and managers). Organizations which implement Agile at the project level without solving organizational wide problem are just doing Agile. This has very limited gains to the organization. In this post  I will demonstrate why the growth mindset is needed for the organization to become Agile instead of just doing Agile.

Dr. Carol Dweck describes in her book titled “Mindset the new psychology of success” two mindsets. Dweck calls them fixed mindset and growth mindset. A mindset is classified based on how it deals with the following five stimuli.


The enterprise culture and its leadership create framework which leads its employees to adopt one of these two mindsets. Therefore, an organization can generally be characterized as having fixed mindset or growth mindset. Dweck gave in her book examples of leadership from both mind sets and showed how the rest of their organization mimicked them.

Benjamin Barber said “I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures, those who make it or those who don’t. I divide the world into learners and non-learners.” This quote is so truthful for the world of organizations. While some organizations are risk avert, relishing predictability and hierarchy, others perceive risks as growth opportunities.

A fail-safe culture prevails in fixed mindset organization while those who can grow adopt a safe-to-fail one. Fail-safe culture creates an atmosphere of fear and judgement, while safe-to-fail creates an atmosphere of learning and employee development. In my view the fixed mindset is the origin of fail-safe culture while the growth mindset is the origin for safe-to-fail one.

Fixed mindset

The red text below shows the response of a fixed mindset to various stimuli.

mindset 2These stimuli are likely to cause the fixed mindset organization to do any of the following:

– Revert back to traditional and predictable process.

– Cutting corners in Agile implementation. For example, having agile project delivery but the upstream process is still driven based on detailed requirements with fixed price and fixed scope.

– Keep churning from one Agile philosophy to another without addressing the real organization problems which stands in the way of Agility.

The explanation of each of the previous responses on enterprise Agile adoption is summarized next.

Avoiding challenges

Agile implementation needs employees to learn new skills. We cannot have effective implementation without accurately implementing the Agile practices in a way sensitive to the organization. These new skills can form challenges on business analysts, developers, testers, managers, project managers, architects, operations, and other employees who are involved in project delivery.

Get defensive or give up easily in face of obstacles

Jean Tabaka has referred once to the term “Working Agreements” to document how various units are going to collaborate for Agile implementation. A Fixed mindset organization can easily create tensions between various organizational units. The whole team notion is a typical obstacle faced by organizations new to Agile. Fixed mindset promotes hand-offs between units instead of collaborative work. Fixed mindset search of hierarchy and structure is detrimental to resolving issues at lowest level without escalation and hand-offs.

Effort is seen as fruitless or worse

According to Dweck, the fixed mindset believe that:

  • We have fixed intelligence and innate abilities
  • Therefore, excreting effort means we lack the ability to do the job. It is either you have the ability or not.
  • Fixed mindset is the antithesis of personal development by spending effort to overcome challenges and remove obstacles.
  • Also, fixed mindset employees will always try to look smart and competent and will be wary to seek help or simply say we do not know.

Who wants to look dumb? Agile transformation can take employees from their comfort zone to where they need help to increase their abilities. A fixed mindset organization is not forgiving of lack of abilities. Therefore, employees would do anything including potentially cheating to hide their shortage in abilities.

Is that our intention from introducing Agile? Exposing impediments should not be at the mercy of denying employees the feeling of self-accomplishment and growth.

Ignore useful negative feedback in face of criticism

Any feedback given during Agile adoption is likely to be ignored or taken defensively. This defensiveness is logical consequence to avoid showing lack of ability because the latter is perceived organizationally as a shortcoming. But, the whole purpose of doing Agile adoption is to use the Agile framework to provide feedback for continuous improvement. Acting on feedback is the way to grow as employees and as organization. In my view, fixed mindset organization do not treat employees personal growth as catalyst for its own growth. We grow by acting on feedback, which is ignored in fixed mindset organizations.

Success of others forms a threat

Bosses in fixed mindset organizations are controlling and abusive. They fear to be judged and finally all employees will be too. These bosses treat their subordinates as threat. Instead of surrounding themselves by competent subordinates, they engage those who are controlled at the expense of what is best for the organization at large. Cascading down the bosses behavior, instead of learning from the success of others, employees in fixed mindset organizations treat this success as a threat. Leadership promotes the idea of superior leaders and inferior rest. Therefore, even when few teams can show some value of Agile, they are likely not to become anchor teams. These successful teams might face myriad of push-back from other teams in the form of unconstructive criticism.

Growth mindset

In face of the above stimuli, the growth mindset act in the following way.

mindset 3

Embrace challenges

Shortage in abilities of employees for Agile adoption would be planned for. For example, Test Driven development would not be skipped or resisted, instead the growth mindset leadership would help the team to develop the needed skills. The leadership will support plans for filling these gaps in terms of training, coaching, piloting with certain teams, measuring improvement and others. Employees will feel secure and enthusiastic  to learn these new skills and to deal with the changes in the process to help in the implementation. Employees are motivated to rationalize such Agile practice according to what make sense for the organization.

Obstacles: Persist in face of setbacks

The growth mindset of the leadership tends to reduce tension among various departments. Leaders are assessing their reports based on how they collaborate instead of individual performance. Therefore, working agreements, required for collaboration among various departments, are created as joint effort. This collaboration helps to alleviate obstacles in the way of Agile adoption.  Employees of the growth mindset organization can recover from set-backs and try again. Instead of dealing with setback as a sign for their inability, they learn from setbacks and adapt. The safe-to-fail atmosphere the leaders create reduce the fear from setbacks and encourage employees to try again. In contrary with fixed mindset organization, setback is a failure and indication of employee inability which the culture cannot tolerate.

See effort as path to mastery

According to Dweck ” Success is about being your best self, not about being better than others; failure is an opportunity, not condemnation; effort is the key to success”.

Employees of the growth mindset organization always make effort to learn for their personal growth which is tied to that of their organization. Effort is needed for employees to learn the new skills needed for Agile adoption. This extra effort would not be considered as sign of inability. Leadership will support this extra effort and demand plans to visualize this effort and to see the outcome.

Learn from criticism

As I mentioned when discussed fixed mindset above, feedback is critical. It serves to measure the impact of Agile implementation. This is translated in the growth mindset organization into actions to correct course or sustain positive impacts. Criticism in the growth mindset organization is usually constructive. This is because there is a common understanding of inter-dependencies among various organizational units.

Find lessons and inspirations in the success of others

Leaders who have growth mindset attract competent subordinates and invest in their personal development. They promote interdependence among groups and organizational units. These leaders usually seek bad news and deal with setbacks as normal stage in the growth of the organization. They primarily pursue the growth of their organization instead of their own personal gain.

Based on the above, successes achieved by teams in their way of Agile adoption, are expected to be capitalized on by other teams.

Finally, Dean Leffingwell put leadership as the required foundation to scale Agile. In my view, understanding Dweck’s research can be so useful to guide change in leadership mindset. The five stimuli can act as score-card for measuring people reaction to Agile adoption. The growth mindset describes the model response which the leadership of Agile adoption should aim for.

5 thoughts on “Growth mindset for enterprise Agile adoption

  1. agile system development is a perfect development system for any organization. Its methods lie on the adaptive side of this continuum. One key of adaptive development methods is a “Rolling Wave” approach to schedule planning, which identifies milestones but leaves flexibility in the path to reach them, and also allows for the milestones themselves to change.

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