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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


















Image source:

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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Community comments

  • Agile development and personality types

    by Svyatoslav Kotusev,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    MBTI types description says that INT types are much better working alone rather than in a team. So I'm sure there is a great correlation between members' personality types and team performance.

  • Agile development and personality types

    by Svyatoslav Kotusev,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Recently I'v read some statistics that NT types prefer to work at scientific programming shops because they are interested in theories more then in practice when ST types prefer to work in enterprise development because they like practice and don't care about theories, I think it makes sense. I think this subject is very interesting and important because different development environments require appropriate personality types, and not only coding skills.

  • Dangerous rubbish

    by Alexander Turner,

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    This post is dangerous rubbish. You should be utterly ashamed. First off, the pseudo-psychology on which it is based is as invalid as attempting to work out personality type from skull structure and equally pernicious. Further, all traits which are running against the perceived dogma of agile are demonized with negative language.

    All this post amounts to is a crude attempt to make any argument against agile totally unacceptable and force people into behaving according to the writer's dogma. Whilst there are good things and bad things about agile, there are only bad things in such attempts to stifle free thought.

    Shame on you - and shame on all who support such unbalanced, pejorative views.

  • no such thing: we "are" the positions we inhabit

    by Gerald Loeffler,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    i have to point out that the concept of "personality types" is quite at odds with important strands of contemporary psychology and sociology (cf. discourse research, post-structuralism, Foucault). Because such a "discursive perspective" invalidates the entire topic of this post, i'll keep my remarks to the absolute minimum:

    The most important discrepancy between a discursive viewpoint and the notion of a "personality type" is that the latter assumes a fixed, true, inner core, a "true self", endowed with dispositional characteristics that we can study, describe and label ("Innovator", "Denier", and the like). This allows statements like "Mike is an Innovator".

    In contrast, a discursive approach takes issue with all these assumptions, and states that the "personality traits" we display are contextually specific (critically depend on the situation at hand) and are, crucially, defined by the positions (roles) we inhabit in any particular context. Thus Mike here and now shows the attributes of an "Innovator" because this particular social setting has put him in a position where speaking/acting as an "Innovator" makes the most sense - and hence he's seen as an "Innovator". That's a long shot from saying Mike is an Innovator! It also means that the attributes displayed by Mike in this context may not fit the pre-defined label "Innovator" (or any other pre-defined label) at all, because the specifics of his position are socially negotiated in that particular context.

    To put it differently: a "personality type" is seen as something coming from deep within a person, while the discursive approach sees it as socially determined: In a sense, we can all be "Innovators" (and "Deniers") if we are put in the position to act like one!

    sorry for the detour,

  • Re: Dangerous rubbish

    by Morgoth Melkor,

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    +100 on that.. Now I wonder where Serial killers fall in that graph if they are Agile?

  • Re: Dangerous rubbish

    by Dave Rooney,

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    Back in 2003 I ran a very unscientific poll on the Extreme Programming Yahoo group that asked people to select their MBTI type from the 16 combinations. Out of some 130 respondents, only 1 was NOT an Intuitor (N). According to several sources that I checked at the time, only 25% of the general population are Intuitors.

    My experience over the past 10 years in the Agile community is that the people most likely to be open to the various Agile methods are those who use "gut feel". They are the people who not only survive in chaordic environments, but thrive in them. Those people generally are N's. The people who initially struggle with Agile are those who need data, data and more data in order to make decisions. Those people are not N's. After they have worked within Agile processes, though, and have accumulated the data they need, those people are fine.

    While I fully admit that these aren't scientific facts, there is certainly "something there" that warrants further study.

    Dave Rooney
    Westboro Systems

  • Re: Dangerous rubbish

    by Tester Testersson,

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    I absolutely agree.

    I wonder why there's no definition of personality type having experience with a**** and hating it.

    Conspiracy theories, anyone? ;)

  • Re: Dangerous rubbish

    by Steve Ash,

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    Not sure what has sparked Alexander's invective, maybe he is a Denier.

    I do not find Myers-Briggs particularly useful in this area; I like to use the Belbin Team personality types, after all, with Agile we are talking about teams not individuals.

  • Re: Dangerous rubbish

    by A B,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Couldn't agree with you more! What utter drivel...

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