The Agile Personality

Cristina Ghita
Cristina Ghita ↓ citește în 7 minute
Jun 25, 2020
Citit de 314 de ori

Extreme Programming, Feature-Driven Development, Crystal Methods, Scrum, Dynamic Systems Development, and Adaptive Software Development: What do they all have in common? Cooperative software development, according to “The Agile Manifesto” (Beck et al., 2001).

Along with the Agile Manifesto came the dawn of traditional methodologies, namely, plan-driven methodologies, creating a shift in focus to the advantage of “decentralized, independent individuals interacting in self-organizing ways, guided by a set of simple, generative rules, to create innovative emergent results” (Highsmith and Cockburn, 2001).

While innate intellectual abilities and programming experience underlie performance under traditional settings, the new demands yield for interpersonal skills when creating teams of software developers under the Agile umbrella.



Team climate has a common denominator: personality. In dealing with technological changes as a constant, outsourcing services, stakeholders’ involvement as part of team input, open-source development, globalization, new business models…these can all take a toll on the development team that is not geared towards continuous adaptive disposition, from a psychological standpoint.

Personality traits come into play and can potentially dictate performance, job satisfaction, and innovation. If you have scrolled long enough through Linkedin, you probably came across the over-shared “You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. Skills can be acquired, attitude is innate”. Granted, this is debatable, but people have become more aware of the personality factor, which is why the HR department may go at great lengths in getting to know you. Here are a few pointers that could offer a sneak peek behind Organizational Psychology practices, and potentially answer a few of your questions, based on current literature.

The Five Factor Model.

Plainly put, there are 5 dimensions to our personality, as described by Nerur and collaborators (2006):

1. Neuroticism.

This dimension of personality encompasses maladjustment to stress, showing little tolerance for it. An individual who scores high on this dimension experiences negative emotions such as anger, guilt, fear, and sadness in a very disheartening way. The opposite of this would be emotional stability and far more functional coping mechanisms for dealing with distress.

But how does it apply to Agile teams?

Studies have indicated a positive correlation between the emotional stability of employees and their job performance, specifically in those areas that require a lot of interpersonal exchange of ideas. (Mount et al., 1998). This would be an important factor weighing in on effectiveness when it comes to development teams.


2. Extraversion

As introverts, we tend to read with slight apprehension about extroverts, and I rely on the fact that the concept of extraversion is quite at hand to everybody. It dictates people-orientation and external focus, which becomes paramount in fostering social inquiry and knowledge sharing through open and honest collaborative efforts (Nerur et al., 2006). Being talkative and easy-going, extra-sociable has its benefits in the Agile team: think of all the situations that require dealing with diverse stakeholders, reconfiguration of teams, or cross-functional teams.

It has been found to be positively associated with self-efficacy, job performance, especially in those that have a large social component. (Barrick and Mount, 1991; Tett et al., 1991).


3. Agreeableness.

Think agreeableness in terms of altruism, compliance, modesty, and trust. Agreeableness could also be that colleague who offered to go with you to that meeting you were so nervous about, or who waited for you to finish your tasks in order to have lunch together, even though it was way past lunchtime.

But what does this translate into? Subordinating personal goals to that of the overall team objective. People who score high on agreeableness create a positive team climate, of particular importance in Agile teams that are jointly responsible for the success of the project.


4. Conscientiousness.

This is the dimension that speaks loudly of dutifulness, self-discipline, order, task completion. You will notice people who score high on this dimension most often at dailies when they check each task they set to accomplish the previous day. Many studies have indicated that conscientiousness is potentially the most stable disposition out of all 5, predicting intrinsic and extrinsic career success [Judge et al., 1999], as well as higher job performance. (Barrick and Mount, 1991).


5. Openness to Experience.

Lastly, the fifth dimension of personality gives us a bit more insight into creativity and the way we find solutions to abstract problems. It is about exploring new ideas and how comfortable that comes to us. People who score high on openness to new experiences are usually introspective, inquiring, and mindful of mental processes and their output on feelings. At the same time, it has been found to be highly correlated to cognitive ability, indicating that it is capturing both the capability to learn and motivation to do so. (Barrick and Mount, 1991).

How does that entail Agile? Think of all the situations where you had to design, implement, test, redesign, implement, test, and so on, in just one sprint. You need to be thinking outside the box in order to find the optimal solution to very complicated and chaotic instructions or ideas from stakeholders.


Before you get all kinds of anxious about not fitting into all of these dimensions of personality, keep in mind that Agile teams need to be heterogeneous: too many extroverts and there will be no work done on time. The same applies to having too many people scoring high on openness to new experiences – the brainstorming could be genius material, but the divergence on finding a solution, just as great.

Out of all five, in agile teams, the presence of agreeable team members who are not very different from each other on this trait would be highly desirable. It takes just one disagreeable team member and the cooperation becomes disrupted. (Peeters, 2006).

The beauty of an Agile development team, as well as its success, lies within the variety of personality traits of its members and their efforts coming together. As an introvert, one might be less inclined to be in client-facing roles that expose one to full days of meetings. However, their conscientiousness and openness to new experiences, as well as agreeableness, can make them just the right person to communicate effectively on project status, company business model, delivery, and great ideas that could be translated in state-of-the-art software products.

As an extrovert, one can provide the “team glue” that makes work more enjoyable, accepting of mistakes, developing friendships more easily, outside the office hours as well, shifting work dynamic towards a more approachable way; but at the same time, you could be left wanting more, if not adapted to a fast-paced rhythm where lots of individual coding is required.


Without building into extremes, each one of the five dimensions provides a plethora of personality makeups with great potential that can be harnessed towards building the greatest technological solutions there can be.

Organizational Psychologists play an important role in making sure the position, the project, the mindset, and the team match the developer’s needs. We, at Human Direct, believe no great decision should be made, career-wise, without pondering on all aspects it involves, both technically and psychologically speaking. This is why we are constantly investing all our efforts into making sure you are making the best decision for yourself.

If you find yourself in a difficult situation and are uncertain what your next career step should be, or you simply want to learn more on how to best prepare for an upcoming job interview, all it takes for you is to reach out, drop a line, and we’ll figure it out together.


  • Highsmith, J., & Cockburn, A. (2001). Agile software development: The business of innovation. Computer, 34(9), 120-127.
  • Barrick, M. R., Stewart, G. L., Neubert, M. J., & Mount, M. K. (1998). Relating member ability and personality to work-team processes and team effectiveness. Journal of applied psychology, 83(3), 377.
  • Barrick, M. R., & Mount, M. K. (1991). The big five personality dimensions and job performance: a meta‐analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44(1), 1-26.
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  • Beck, K., Beedle, M., Van Bennekum, A., Cockburn, A., Cunningham, W., Fowler, M., ... & Kern, J. (2001). The agile manifesto.
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  • Soomro, A. B., Salleh, N., Mendes, E., Grundy, J., Burch, G., & Nordin, A. (2016). The effect of software engineers’ personality traits on team climate and performance: A Systematic Literature Review. Information and Software Technology, 73, 52-65.
  • Barroso, A. S., da Silva, J. S. M., Soares, M. S., & do Nascimento, R. P. (2017). Influence of Human Personality in Software Engineering.
  • Tett, R. P., Jackson, D. N., & Rothstein, M. (1991). Personality measures as predictors of job performance: A meta‐analytic review. Personnel Psychology, 44(4), 703-742.

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