How to assess the characteristics of agile companies
2 min read

How to assess the characteristics of agile companies

How to assess the characteristics of agile companies

There are many signs of an agile company culture, both obvious and subtle. The subtle ones are harder to spot, of course.

When you assess the 5 characteristics, you'll get a better understanding of an organization's level of agility.

And as so often in life, better understanding starts with asking better questions.

Now let's start with the 5 characteristics.

Agile companies ...

  1. embrace fast failures.
  2. value distributed decision making.
  3. create joy in the workplace.
  4. release products frequently.
  5. inspect and adapt through retrospectives.

Okay, let's delve a little deeper into the details. 👇

Fast failures

Agile Organizations celebrate fast failures. Experiments are small.

They encourage teams to try something new to delight customers and share what they’ve learned with the rest of the organization.

The learning from any failures isn’t hidden but shared openly.

Distributed decision making

The ability to make decisions and respond to rapidly changing customer needs.

If you are dependent upon leadership to make all decisions you will be slow and sluggish. And typically, the larger the organization, the slower the response.

Self-organizing agile teams are empowered to make decisions day-to-day in alignment with the strategic direction. These teams have regular contact with real customers, enabling them to learn about changing customer needs and react quickly.

Joy in the workplace

People who create value directly for customers and work at a sustainable pace, really enjoy the way they work.

These organizations have teams that are deeply connected to the impact their product has on their customers.

Releasing products frequently

Customer-facing value: The more frequently you release products, the more opportunities you have to impress customers and receive feedback.

Frequent releases allow an organization to sense and respond to changing customer needs, and deliver the right product at the right time.

Inspect and adapt

All members have a voice in how the work is organized. Team retrospectives have actionable results that the team builds into the next sprint. When retrospectives are done correctly, teams try something new each sprint in order to work in a better way.

Retrospectives are valuable at an organization-level as well. Agile cultures inspect and adapt how they are organized.

And agile organizations aren’t just doing retrospective theater. They listen to team feedback and make real, actionable changes to improve collaboration and maximize outcomes.


Agile organizations prioritize fast failures, distributed decision-making, joy in the workplace, frequent product releases, and continuous improvement through retrospectives.

They encourage teams to experiment and learn from failures, empower teams to make decisions in alignment with the organization's strategy, foster a positive work culture, regularly release products to gather feedback and respond to changing customer needs, and actively listen to and implement feedback to improve team experiences and maximize business outcomes.

Next time you want to check how agile a company really is, you can use these criteria as a guide.

Asking the right questions

If you are interested in the questions you can ask for a better understanding of the agile mindset of the organization:

Can you tell me some stories of team and product failures and how the organization responded?

How are decisions about products made at the team level? What leadership approvals are required and why?

What are your company's mission, vision, and values? What does team communication look like to get to know each other as people, not just about work?

Do your teams release working software/products to your customers in every sprint? If not, how often and why?

What experiments are your teams trying in this sprint to improve their collaboration? How has your organizational design changed based on feedback from your people?