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What is Lean-Agile Mindset?

lean agile mindset

This article may look like a Gyan or a theory that doesn’t work in practical life. It is not. It’s connected with human behavior. While reading, reflect on it without wearing any filter. This will help understand & build the right Lean-Agile mindset.

Agile Mindset

We always mention “Agile is not a process, it’s a mindset”. Though this is repeated several times, this is not understood well by many of us. Let’s go deep into this article about “what is a mindset” and how we build a lean-agile mindset.

What is a Mindset?

Here is the definition of mindset as per Wikipedia:

Mindset is an “established set of attitudes, esp. regarded as typical of a particular group’s social or cultural values; the outlook, philosophy, or values of a person; (now also more generally) frame of mind, attitude, disposition.” It may arise from a person’s worldview or philosophy of life.

In simple words, “Mindset” is nothing but the way or the lens through which we view the world. It is the way we categorize and interpret the information that is received daily. We form our mindset based on our structured learning like classes/readings etc. and through unstructured learning like life experience, work experience, etc. These experiences reside in the subconscious mind and manifest as beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes. 

Mindset is your collection of thoughts and beliefs that shape your habits. Your habits affect how you think, what you feel, and what you do.

Mindset is built over a longer period, and it stays strong in the mind and drives the behavior of a person.

The Mindset in Product Development

Many leaders develop beliefs based on their past education and past work experience that Waterfall is the way to go in the future. They believe that stage-gated product development is the right way to build the product. This is because of their belief. When this belief is strong enough, it becomes a mindset. 

The above mindset is not a Lean-Agile mindset.

What is a Lean-Agile Mindset?

It is a blend of assumptions, beliefs, and the behavior of Leaders and practitioners of SAFe, who embrace and follow Agile values & principles, and lean thinking. This means the leaders need to have both Agile mindsets as well a lean mindset.

This comes from four different bodies of knowledge: 

  1. Agile
  2. Systems Thinking
  3. DevOps and 
  4. Lean thinking

The origin of SAFe was to develop guidance for enterprises on how to apply principles and practices of Lean and Agile in the world’s large organizations.

An agile mindset is essential for the team to be agile in delivering value, however lean mindset is crucial for a scaled agile organization.

Leaders with a Lean-Agile mindset have a Growth mindset to adapt faster and scale.

The Lean-Agile mindset in the SAFe organization is built through the SAFe House of Lean.

values of Lean Agile Mindset

Behaviors of Organization with a Lean-Agile Mindset 

Leaders with a Lean-Agile mindset build an organization that has the following behaviors.

  1. They build and release products in the shortest and most sustainable lead time.
  2. Teams have high morale and high employee engagement
  3. Cultural changes start with leaders and are embraced by everyone in the organization. It is sustained.
  4. The flow of value delivery is optimized to deliver value in the shortest time. Unnecessary waste is removed from the system. 
  5. The value stream is optimized by limiting WIP, removing waste in the biggest bottlenecks, managing the queue, and its length, etc.
  6. Mindset is more of a product mindset (long term) and not a project mindset (with fixed deadlines)
  7. Innovation is part of the organization’s culture. Time and space are given for innovation to the entire organization. Everyone innovates. 
  8. Getting quick and faster feedback is part of their life. Feedback from customers/users is taken and reflected in the product in a shorter time.
  9. Product ideas are validated in a brief time and pivoted without any guilt or mercy. 
  10. The organization continuously improves through “whole optimization” thinking. They don’t optimize the individual components; the optimization is done by having a systems view.
  11. Every part of the organization keeps reflecting on key milestones in their behavior, and execution and continuously improving. This happens more often. Improvements are always based on facts, not based on gut feeling/opinions. Lean tools like a fishbone, Y-Y analysis, Pareto analysis, etc are used to find the fact and root cause of the issue.
  12. Continuous exploration of the market, users, and their needs is part of the system.
  13. A leader’s responsibilities are not delegated. They know what they must do to drive the organization towards lean agile and they meticulously do it.
  14. First, Leaders embrace the values of Lean and Agile before they drive it with their teams.
  15. They are actively involved in removing impediments that the teams face.
  16. They play an active role in driving organizational change.

Behaving like the above points, Leaders and teams need to have a “Growth Mindset”. Building a “Growth Mindset” is hard, however, it is essential to establish Lea-Agile thinking in the organization.

Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset

There are two types of mindsets – fixed mindset and growth mindset. Here are a few examples of people, who have a growth mindset.

  1. I am willing to try new things, not deciding what can and cannot be done
  2. My abilities are determined by abilities and attitude, not by failures
  3. It’s okay to fail, failure helps you learn and grow
  4. I am willing to challenge myself, challenges help me grow
  5. My potential is not pre-determined, I can learn and do anything I want
  6. I am open to feedback, they are constructive

Leaders first need to operate themselves in this mindset. Only then they can drive the same as the rest of the organization.

How do we build a Growth Mindset?

There are ways we can build a Growth mindset during SAFe implementation. Here are a few tips.

Tip SAFe Context
Focus on small improvements, instead of perfection. Being perfect never happens OR by the time it is perfect, it is too late. In every PI, the Agile Release Train continuously measures & improves. It is visible.
Keep reminding yourself that you are growing. Keeping thinking about climbing up helps us achieve and move ahead. Every PI identifies the positives and good things that happened in the ART. This creates a positive vibe in the ART.
Keep trying: Thomas Alva Edison failed several times before he succeeded. He never gave up. Such stories will motivate you to try when you fail. Remember – failure is part of our life and human has not done anything right without failing the first time, right from birth. First 1-2 PIs, you will have a storming phase because the teams are trying new ways of building a product using SAFe. They may fail. Provide “psychological safety” when the teams fail.
No failures, only learnings: Consider failures as only learnings and opportunities to improve. Failures should not be taken as negative. In every iteration and every PI, failures are converted into learnings and actions, so it does not happen. Make sure team-level retrospectives and PI level Problem-solving workshops are powerful to identify the problem, and root cause and come up with actions. Make sure the actions are closed in the very next iteration / PI.
Fail, fail, fail: Fail fast, fail early, and fail often. This will take out the fear of failure. Every small failure will become a learning and will lead to improvements. Continuously integrating, will lead to failures in the beginning, however, will teach a lot. At least once in an iteration, integrate the whole system and demonstrate the system. This will enable the ART to align with faster integration and look at the end-to-end system.
Have a coach to coach you continuously. A mirror is required to see the true face, identify the gaps, and improve. Having a coach who has hands-on experience in implementing SAFe will be able to mentor and coach the leaders, teams, etc. Having a coach will help in implementing the framework in the way it is defined.
Continue to challenge yourself and your team often. IP iteration is the time to upskill and do some innovation-related work. Also, challenge the team to get into the CD pipeline that will enable continuous deployment and release based on customer demand, not based on the team’s ability.
Enable continuous learning Build a cross-functional skills structure, and help teams, and individuals move towards achieving the cross-functional skill. This will help them to learn beyond their boundaries, as well will help the ART in delivering value faster with high quality.


Building a Lean-Agile mindset is extremely hard, especially when the organization has a more waterfall mindset with leaders and practitioners. However, it can be built structurally with an alignment with leadership. Without a Lean Agile mindset in the ART, other competencies cannot be built effectively as this is one of the foundations.

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