Agile types within the community?

Over the last few years I have been undertaking some action research around Agility and what we might possibly mean by the claim of an ‘Agile community’? Are there, like most other professional/social communities distinct sub-communities? Can we trace or recognise smaller grouping(s) that seek to collectively make sense of the notion of ‘Agility’ in its broadest sense? And does this naturally mean that Agility is understood in different and even competing ways? And, if so, how can we, and do we, make sense of that multiplicity of meaning-making, for want of a better term? What method lends itself to understanding?

One approach I like is that proposed by Carl Jung and his use of ‘types’. This is a first-class resource for those wanting to read/study a little more

Stated simply, Jung made the claim that humanity share a collective unconscious. Our collective unconscious was inhabited by a range of characters that he called archetypes. I guess then, I am wondering if these characters are shared symbolically by the agile community? Can you recognise any of them? Do they resonate? We each then using this framework can be ‘activiated’ by an archetype and act-out in the ways described. Of course, this would be unconsciously, rather than consciously given the nature of an archetype. What types can we recognise?

On Method
Following quite extensive individual and small group interviews; and then reading primary and secondary resources, I think I’m in the position to postulate the following typology. I have attempted to condense the complexity to a rather simplified 4 core types, but of course, I am in the process of making-sense of my own, rather limited, direct lived experience. There are therefore, I am certain, more that can be re-searched and shared, expounded and I hope, in a life affirming manner, debated too.

For each of the 4 types I have attempted to analyse sameness and difference. I’ve also looked at some of the main metaphors that resonate for each type. Next I’ve looked at some of the main ways by which they tend to ‘act-out’ in terms of power-relations. Lastly, I’ve examined some of the unconscious ‘shadow side’ of the types so as to provide psychological space for humility, reflection, insight, and possibly more self-awareness.

As I write that last sentence I make the candid declaration that I am a ‘flawed human’ with a need for my own ongoing ‘inner work’. I am grateful for my coach, mentor and friends to this end.

What are the 4 types?
I have carefully traced the following 4 types:
• The Radical
• The Reticularist
• The Retro
• The Romantic
I’ll address each in turn and then a short summary table for ease of reference etc.

The Radical.
With the Radical type of character there is an inherent impatience with the rate, or pace, of progress. If their dreams were actually realised; then there would be a massive, unmeasured and rapid change to their ‘way’. They seem to desire an over-idealised Agile image that forever seems just ‘out of reach’. Consequently, their preferred modus operandi is the on-going challenge, the critique. This is what Cooperrider refers to as ‘the deficit model’. They have ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and they are willing to deploy them if deemed necessary. Their preferred metaphors for Agile teams are ‘squads’ based on a military/conflict model. Thus, they speak and think in terms of war; fighting; and competition. For them to win then others must lose on their imagined Agile ‘Crusade’.

Their psychological narrative is binary: good/bad; in/out; friend/foe. They prefer in-groups where all the members share their future ‘end game’ when, presumably, they have ‘won’ and anyone that does not share their own (rather narrow view) of organisational Agility has lost? Thus, Agile ‘coaches’ caught-out by this character might spend over 80% of their time, energy and persuasion on ‘challenging the status quo’. As you might have guessed the Radical struggles with multiple, competing interpretations of reality. Thus, he sees things in a single-minded manner. They are very stubborn and fixed.

Of course, there is as with all types more positive aspects to this type. They have deep personal resource ‘wells’ of energy, resilience and massive drive. This role can be seen in some circles as a ‘necessary mavericks’ and by a smaller number as ‘heroes’ taking forward and representing the Agile cause with ‘passion’.

When things are not moving as fast as they deem realistic then their impatience reveals their shadow-side. This shadow-side includes all the military undertones of actual warfare: propaganda, guerrilla attacks, and psychological injuries. Next, given that they often have strong group boundary norms they can be given-over to darkened shades of group-think. The advice? To keep this in check this sub-community would do well to keep connected with other sub-groups and more especially the Romantics. (NB:- They would need to be careful with the Reticularist as the latter may simply be seen as an ‘intelligence source’ for their next ‘campaign’).

The Reticularist
I’ve blogged previously around the role of the Reticularist. Stated simply, the Reticularist is sometimes referred to as a ‘boundary spanner’. This Agile archetype is a ‘whole systems’ actor, thinker and planner. Therefore, within the organisation (and more especially the IT department) she/he is seeking to understand work flow. Questions arise such as: How does work flow through the organisation from product conception right through to the release stage? Where are the blockers to flow?
With whom do I need to make allies with and, quite literally, ‘see’ work from their perspective in an appreciative way? The Reticularist seeks to co-create with others incremental improvements to flow, and so share successes across teams.

The guiding metaphor for them is an organic or ‘living’ system. This is because such systems move, change, shift and therefore, new patterns emerge from the interactions of the parts. In this way, the Reticularist is a collaborator par excellence as they act on and with the ‘edges’ of different interfacing teams and departments. As an example: If product releasing is a current challenge- then a collaborative group would seek to co-create a solution.

Whereas for the Radical the temptation would be to challenge and then release the product from the direct Scrum team and then more simply watch and ‘see what happens’ which could well include fall-out and tensions…the Reticularist would systemically foresee the tensions arising from such unilateral decision-making and seek to circumvent it via a more collaborative method (e.g. a small cross-group experiment).
The shadow-side for the boundary spanner is gossiping. This is because when you are seeking to understand all the ‘parts of the whole’ of necessity this means engaging with the teams within those parts.

Consequently, there is a genuine risk of information-sharing for understanding in transit/translation, losing its ethical value, as gossip. The downside of gossiping are likely to include damaging trust, as well as negating possible future relational reciprocity. To mitigate this risk, one ought to state one’s own intentions for Agile improvement as the contextual discussion background. Thus, you cannot be ‘all things to all people’ if this means in professional practice you are left without any ethical ‘grounding’ from which others can evaluate you intentions for good or ill.

The Retro.
According to the online urban dictionary the Retro is a ‘contemporary style containing elements but not the replication of a previous era’. Thus, there is a sense of looking back in time or history, for the Retro. They hold in especial respect and regard the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the Agile movement. The Retro often have applied longevity with the application of Agile methods in various types of organisations. Many of them are seen as current leaders themselves. A smaller sub-set have taken the opportunity to incrementally develop, refine and market new tools, techniques and methods. The Retro has a deep and genuine sense of respect for the ‘Giants of the Past’. They will have taken the considered care and time to study their words and often memorised their key concepts and suggestions, and applied them too.

Whereas for the Retro there is respect and even reverence for the Founding Fathers this is often at the business or logical level. The Retro deeply understands marketing, branding and profit margins. This can be contrasted with the Radical as the latter actively seek to challenge the ‘Old Timers’ for even better methods; innovative breakthroughs and new models.

The shadow-side for the Retro is most often witnessed by a degree of arrogance, pride and a somewhat ‘closed mind’. Therefore, on many dimensions the Retro can be contrasted with the Radical. Whereas for the Retro ‘wisdom’ is a core value; for the Radical disruptive innovation is of a higher need/value. Many current and previous Agile community arguments can thus be framed using this interpretative lens or schema.

The guiding metaphor for the Retro type is honouring the wisdom of the collective past as incremental improvements are made moving towards the visionary future. The future vision, of course, would seem consistent with the Founding Fathers, whilst accepting and even celebrating a sense of building on their foundations.
Key words: vision, values and wisdom. In terms of power-relations the Retro views power and residing in the empirical evidence-base underpinning their Craft. Therefore, they look back to the philosophical Greeks not just for wisdom; but also for their technical Craft or techne. They are keen to learn the ways by which to persuade, cajole and bring others along in a relatively harmonious way to a more Agile organisation.

The Romantic.
For the Romantic type the Agility journey must engage meaning. It is essential for the Romantic they can see their role and the ways by which this is connected to the Agile journey for the organisation. For the Romantic, Agility has everything to do with increased job and team satisfaction; a more life affirming and innovative work-place. Whilst they appreciate all the empirical data ‘under the sun’ such as: efficiency, effectiveness, productivity and outcomes; the Romantic longs for something more: meaning. Therefore, and this is very important their emotions must be engaged.

The Romantic will have emotionally internalised the Scrum values, for example, and seek to work and be ethically guided by them as part of their working intuition. They may even internalise them as self-embodied values within other areas or life domains. Thus, they will enjoy experimenting with agility in their personal lives. Thus, when these values are ‘crossed’ there will be a deep sense of disappointment and even shame and regret. The Romantics are therefore, captured by a participative ‘Mission’ that must have an ethical sense of direction.

The Romantics are looking to carefully, and at times, patiently build the ‘Agile City set on a Hill’. Given their need for emotional connection and meaning; when senior leaders fail to make their connection for them by organisational discourse, metaphor and mission statement the Romantics symbolically (and perhaps in reality) ‘lose heart’ and they consequently disengage. The Romantics are deeply connected, on an emotional level, with the ‘Founding Fathers’ and they are seeking to be as true to those initial values as the Founders were. Respect is a key word in their psychological lexicon. Indeed, they are less interested per se, in new ‘brands’ or emergent markets, but rather to co-create new idea, and to solve new problems if and only if, they are underscored by the correct set of values.

Their shadow-side is revealed not be naked resistance (as marked-out so obviously by a Radical), but rather, by ‘going through the motions’. When the shadow falls over the Romantic they somehow seem emotionally ‘hollow’ to their team mates and wider colleagues. It is this sense of an accompanying emotional numbness that psychologically signifies the denial/rejection of things that really do matter (deep down in their soul) to them.

In this blog I have sought to explore and understand the notion of an Agile community and posited that there might be a number of Agile sub-communities. Why? I have done so in the hope that by articulating the ‘contested space’ of Agility that more harmony, collaboration and legitimacy can be taken-up by different ways of living and indeed being Agile.

It is beyond the scope of this current blog to work through how many of each type are the optimal ‘mix’ given any organisational agile journey. I would imagine that the organisational culture is a key factor?

Jason is a Certified Scrum Professional. He is also a Business Psychologist, as well as a full member of the Association of Project Managers.

Minimum Viable Product: Ignoring the Call of the Sirens

One of the most fascinating stages for any Agile product is working through what constitutes the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). 

It seems to me that all three signifiers, or words, have equal weight or importance. The process determines or ‘locks in’ at least for a point in time that which makes something of sufficient substance that we can recognise it as a ‘product’ per se.  Next the analysis concerns itself with what the minimum number of features the product has so that from a market perspective we can successfully have a product to release or take it to the market as part of a new product launch. Finally, the second term the viability becomes critical in at least three ways:-

  1. In terms of our market segmentation strategy and market research this meets or fulfills our customer demographic needs
  2. If for an internal customer, or business unit, then in a similar way- the product needs to meet a similar set of needs- at least for the point in time for the Release date (as by definition later releases will meet future needs that may well change, emerge or become redundant as a function of time)
  3. Finally, viability has a keen association with the business case. The latter will normally have the ‘golden triangle’ of classic project management tools and include analysis around time, quality and costs.

What can we learn from depth psychology? I’ve pondered this recently and think that there are some lessons from the Odyssey (Homer) and in particular the episode with the gorgeous Sirens.


You may recall that the poem centres around the hero Odysseus and his long-winded adventure and journey home after the battle of Troy. On their way home his skilled and brave crew are faced with mortal danger in the form of beautiful women called the Sirens. The Sirens lure sailors to their deaths by a fatal combination of the most enchanting, beautiful and hypnotic songs as well as their gorgeous beauty. They were seen as daughters of the god Achelous.

By their physical beauty, and melodious songs they, if successful, get the ship to change direction and shipwreck on the rocky nearby coasts. Thus, to this day, the Siren song refers to an appeal that is hard to resist but that, if heeded, will lead to a poor or bad conclusion. It is it seems an ‘irresistible distraction’.

Thankfully in our myth, our hero was fore-warned of the Siren call and consequently (and very wisely) strapped himself to the mast of his ship. He then ordered his crew to use wax in their ears so that they could not be seduced by the Sirens! No easy task! To be fair, the sailors obeyed and as we now know by looking back that this was a set of wise choices in such demanding circumstances! Thankfully, it all worked! and they were able to sail on despite the ‘distractions’.

This speaks to me in the following three ways:-

  1. After we have completed our market research we must be as wise as Odysseus and keep our eyes fixed on our objective asking carefully and wisely if each feature meets the litmus test of all three signifiers in the MVP trinity
  2. Next, we must paradoxically ‘resist the irresistible‘ and this ensure that we keep pace with our own progress and be careful not to be distracted by any external, or at times, internal ‘Siren call’s’ even though they may be beautiful features
  3. Lastly, as Scrum Masters we need to work alongside the Product Owner, in particular, and if need be ‘fasten him to the mast‘ and so ensure the safety of the project team.

Take care Jason


Agile working: Celebrating the Puer but ensuring we don’t become puerile?


One of the most fascinating insights from Carl Jung is the idea of opposites as a necessary set. This can hold true in terms of time; spatial proximity, concepts, physical realities and many, many others. One set of opposites that I have been experimenting with over the last few months is in terms of planning/control and emergence/freedom. I have a professional interest in this set of opposites in terms of Agile working. This is my learning to date.

The Collective Unconscious 

The collective unconscious is one of the ways Jung’s originality is best expressed for me. I won’t go into the details here as that is material for another blog at a future time. For those of you unfamiliar with this idea stated simply, Jung noted that human beings universally share unconscious material. This material and characters, what Jung referred to as archetypal are found in all cultures, and historical periods as far back as we can trace human history and thought. They are often expressed by way of cultural myths, fairy tales, stories, poems and legends, for example.

The Male Youth and the Old Man.

Jung noted two archetypes that I’d like to examine in a bit more detail and relevance and this is the old man and the male youth/adolescent. Jung used the Latin terms and referred to them as the Senex Type and the Puer Type.  It is important not to see these are personality types in our external worlds, but rather as characters. These are characters in ‘The Theatre’ of our unconscious.

The Senex embodies the notion we have for wisdom, experience and is underscored by a sense of veneration and respect as opposed to the ways in which in the West we have tended to become more disrespectful of the elderly sometimes even going too far as a see them as some kind of ‘burden’. Thus, when compared to the adolescent the Senex has strengths or virtues in that they are more likely to be grounded, realistic, cautious, forward-looking and careful. However, the shadow side of this type is that they can be resistant to change, express a more pessimistic attitude, and even a depressive tone that finds it more difficult to find the expression of comedy and humor. When taken too far with a lack of self integration the Senex can start to quite literally ‘squeeze’ joy from life, work teams and other social interactions.

The Puer Type is the Latin term for ‘child’. Thus puerile expresses the notion that a given action or behaviour is something that would be considered foolish, silly or immature for an adult. However, there are strengths to the Puer type and this is best expressed as playfulness. The sense that creativity is linked to, and of course key ideas around innovation, originality, and fresh approaches can be traced to this type. In contrast to the Senex the Puer is open to new ideas with a sense of spontaneous openness and fun-loving joy. Play for Jung is a quintessential activity that can foster learning, growth and personal development and of course personality integration of our ‘parts’. For most adults, it is fair to say that it is a genuine challenging process to recapture this fresh, beginner’s mind.

Of course, as the Senex can be unbalanced so can the Puer too. The adult that is constantly in ‘play mode’ can lack responsibility; be weak-willed morally; reluctant to fully commit their effort, time and ideas to projects. They can also lack the necessary tenacity and determination to ‘see things through’. One can see quickly the hedonistic drum of me, me, me associated with the accompanying drum of now, now, now!

A question of balance.  

If you imagine a spectrum or a continuum between the Senex and the Puer then one of the key insights from Jung is that for individual living at the extreme Senex end of the senex-puer spectrum is living a life out of balance. It is worth noting that both Archetypes should be active in our unconscious lives- and found expression in our lived realities. We all need ‘access’ as well as acceptance and integration of our inner Puer as much as our inner Senex.

The Agile Project: Celebrating Senex and Puer.

In my experience most large organisations tend to be more Senex in their cultural assumptions and guiding values- but not all. That is they tend to have a business operating model that values control, planning and forward-looking and are cautious around notions of Puer playfulness. Seeing this as a creative tension between these necessary set of opposites has added value as a Scrum Master seeking to develop more Agile way of working.

In a future Blog I’ll unpack some of the practical ways this has been successful framed by Appreciative Inquiry. For the time being, it is fair to say that Jung’s insights has been added value as a working framework in practical ways.

Take care Jason


Yoda: A key role in Agile?

One of the key strengths of the Agile manifesto is the principle is that the team is self-organising. From these first principles we can anticipate that team roles will emerge from organising in this kind of way, rather than by way of a contrast, the roles being assigned by management. When we say ‘team roles’ we are not referring to technical roles such as Developer, Tester or Product Owner or Scrum Master, rather, we are referring to sociological functions; that enable the team members to ‘perform’ to high quality or best-in-class standards.


This ‘division of labour’ if you like between product delivery/execution and team sociological and/or psychological needs goes back a long way in team theory, and many of us can recall Belbin’s Team Inventory from his seminal book ‘Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail’ back in 1981. His typology was based on teams from a broad range of industries and included eight roles such: Chairman, Shaper, Plant, Monitor-Evaluator, Company Worker, Resource Investigator, Team Worker, and Completer-Finisher. Later, the notion of the Specialist was added.

Sharpening our focus more specifically on Agile IT teams, one recent study researched 58 Agile practitioners from 23 software organizations in New Zealand and India. What was fascinating is that they discovered that the roles, if and of themselves, emerged from the self organising processes underpinning Agile. To be fair, we might expect this, but this empirical evidence over a four-year period, adds to our body of professional knowledge. The authors used open-ended interviews to allow the research themes to develop (rather than impose their schema on the research) and they report finding these roles: Mentor, Coordinator, Champion, Promoter, and Terminator/Finisher. (see Hoda et al (2013) in Software Engineering, IEEE Transactions, Vol 39 (3).

From a Business Psychology perspective, what I found interesting was some of the similarities between the Mentor role and Jung’s archetype for what he called the ‘wise old man’. This role is characterised, or represented as a kind, ethical and often older Father-type ‘figure’ who draws on his deep knowledge and experience of people (what we might refer to in the 21st Century as emotional or people intelligence) to offer guidance, coaching, support and encouragement to help others. The coaching insights/ discussions help others to access deeper self-resilience and an improved sense of who they are, and who they might become, thereby acting as a Mentor.

Sometimes when appearing in dreams, Jung claimed that the wise old man might in some ways be seen as Other- that is to say from a foreign culture, country or set of values. In extreme cases sometimes like a liminal being of some description. I think that Yoda from Star Wars would be a more modern ‘take’ on this archetypal role. (By the way the new Star Wars trailer is very exciting! Bring-on December!).

When located in a story, there is a key turning-point in the narrative, when the wise old man naturally dies, or is murdered, or at times sacrifices himself to enable the Hero to take his rightful place in the story. As you might recognise by now from one of your favourite stories… because of the additional self-knowledge, and awareness gained from his relationship with his Mentor, the Hero can claim the rightful victory before the next turn in the text.

But what about us today in our Agile world? Well, it would be all to simple to make the erroneous link that the Mentor equals the Scrum Master. We, of course, have to be careful not to make this mistake. Recall that from the first principle of self-organisation, we know that these roles are not prescribed, but rather emerge from the team itself. Therefore, we can expect and anticipate that different team members, as individuals, will emerge as the ‘wise old man’ or or ‘wise old woman’ at any given time- given the team psychological and sociological needs of the Sprint in question.

To me this sounds and feels both flexible and life affirming, and ‘gives permission’ for us to see our own personalities, and strengths, in much more fluid, productive, open and transformative ways.

May the Force be with… You?

Take Care, Jason.