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Is there an Agile Personality Type?

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There has been quite a bit of research in both academic and practitioner circles into the impact of personality types on agile teams. Various commentators have asked variations on the question “is there an agile personality type”. The most common answer seems to be “it depends”, but there seem to be some key characteristics that seem to indicate an affinity with agile methods. 


In March, the Agile Journal published an article by Mario Moreira )  titled Agile Personality Types  in which he characterises team members into seven categories based on their experience with and attitude towards agile methods.  He presents the types in this matrix:

Agile personality types matrix


















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He describes the seven personalities as follows:

Agile Innovators make up a small population of folks in the Agile arena who are very experienced in this field and very positive about Agile. Agile Innovator is typically designated as an Agile industry leader and is motivated to improve and extend Agile methods, practices, and techniques.
Agile Champions tend to know Agile well and are willing to advocate it in a very positive way across an organization. Some common roles in this space are Agile coaches, consultants, product managers, heads of engineering, development, and QA, and project managers. They make up a small, yet core, leadership in the Agile community and communicate the real meaning of what Agile is and what it means to have it applied. Work Horse
The Work Horse has learned about Agile by trying to implement it on their own or as part of an Agile team with some help from others. They are mostly positive about Agile but will be fairly honest on what works and what does not. The common role in this space are the members of an Agile team that have implemented Agile methods and practices.
The Bandwagon crowd sees benefits in jumping on the Agile bandwagon. Fads and trends rule the day in many organizations so if Agile is perceived to be "hot", then there will be folks who will jump on that bandwagon. Those in the bandwagon crowd tends to be inexperienced with Agile but are generally positive especially when they think it can help their own image or further their career.
The Cowboy sees Agile as an opportunity to abandon processes and documentation so that they can enjoy the wild west life. Cowboys are the type of folks who are not necessarily negative about Agile because, in many cases, they know that they get away with pretending to be Agile since many folks, particularly the bandwagon crowd who are their up-line management, really have no idea what Agile is. It is the cowboy that has propagated the myth that Agile is an undisciplined approach for wild-west coders.
The deceiver will provide surface agreement to using Agile but will silently attempt to ignore or even sabotage the project in order to put the blame on Agile. A deceiver is negative about Agile but is usually so because they have thrived using traditional or no method and see this as an impact to their working culture.
The Denier will outright deny any benefit to Agile or their interest in moving to it. They are typically set against Agile from the beginning because they see that it will interfere with what they perceived to be their currently successful role within the company. Some deniers have thrived on playing a very specific role on a project and have been rewarded accordingly.

He provides advice on working with (and dealing with) the different personalities on teams and concludes that “While employing Agile implies a cultural shift, the Agile community must continue to communicate the strengths and weaknesses. Knowing the people you are working with and their Agile personality types can help you utilize their strengths and overcome the challenges ahead to a more successful Agile journey.”

Alternative views of Personality and Type

Richard Banks posted a blog article titled “Personality Types and Agile Development”  in which he discusses both the DSPA (Drive, Promoter, Supporter and Administrator) and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) , and relates them to working on an agile team.
He gives the following definition of the DSPA types:

D - DRIVER: Decisive and Direct. Drivers want to take charge in order to succeed and win.
P - PROMOTER: Outgoing and Optimistic. Promoters want to influence others and inspire them to act.
S - SUPPORTER: Sympathetic and Accommodating. Supporters want to help others and solve conflicts.
A - ADMINISTRATOR: Precise and Reserved. Administrators want to do things right and pay attention to detail.

He sums up the Myers-Briggs personality types as:

  • Extraversion - Introversion
  • Sensing - Intuition
  • Thinking - Feeling
  • Judging - Perceiving 
    • The first criterion, Extraversion - Introversion defines the source and direction of energy expression for a person. An extravert has a source and direction of energy expression mainly in the external world while the introvert has a source of energy mainly in the internal world.
    • Sensing - iNntuition defines the method of information perception by a person. Sensing means that a person believes mainly information he or she receives directly from the external world. Intuition means that a person believes mainly information he or she receives from the internal or imaginative world.
    • Thinking - Feeling defines how the person processes information. Thinking means that a person makes a decision mainly through logic. Feeling means that, as a rule, he or she makes a decision based on emotion.
    • The fourth criterion, Judging - Perceiving defines how a person implements the information he or she has processed. Judging means that a person organizes all his life events and acts strictly according to his plans. Perceiving means that he or she is inclined to improvise and seek alternatives.

In the post he draws no conclusions, but asks for feedback from people listing their MBTI and DSPA profiles, and how they feel about working in agile teams.
Much of the feedback posted can be summed up in a response by Steve Horn:

You have to take a look at what different personalities bring to the table to make the team a whole. I think all personality types bring something to the table that can compose a better team vs a majority of one 'best suited for agile' personality style.

A high-level description of the sixteen MBTI personality types can be found here

At the XP2010 conference in Norway, Omar Mazni, Syed-Abdullah Sharifah-Lailee and Yasin Azman presented a paper examining the impact of personality type (using Myers-Briggs) on team performance when implementing eXtreme Programming.  They conclude their research by saying

The results of this study suggest that a right combination of personality types in a team can influence team performance

Lucas Layman, Travis Cornwell & Laurie Williams examined the Myers-Briggs personality types and the Felder-Silverman learning styles when designing a software engineering course at North Carolina State University. They conclude:

The combination of lecture and lab work, the use of an agile process model, and an awareness of the learning needs of different types of students has helped us to create a successful learning environment. We believe that we were able to create a better learning environment for students by instituting a course approach that appeals to a wide variety of personality types and learning styles.

Is there an "agile personality type" and if so, what are the important characteristicts?


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