Find Your Spine to Create an Agile Team Culture

You may be wondering what it means to find your spine. I'm just referring to a model called the "Spine Model." I first heard about this on Episode 90 of the Agile for Humans podcast. The model was created by Danie Roux and Kevin Trethewey. In their words, the spine model is:

A model for making sense of collaborative systems, and enabling useful conversations about them.

Our purpose for adopting agile practices is to find a path towards continuous improvement and provide value to our customers. That seems like a pretty valuable goal. When researching agile, the most common terms we discover are scrum, sprint, product backlog, and Kanban board. These are practices and tools used in agile methodologies. If we adopt them before discussing the problems we are trying to solve, we are setting our selves up for failure.

This is the strength of the Spine Model. The model proposes that we start the conversation with our needs. That makes perfect sense from a design thinking perspective. We can't create a solution without understanding the problem or in this case, our needs. To meet our needs, we first look to determine our values. An understanding of values leads us to define our principles. After we have thoroughly discussed needs, values and principles we will be better prepared to talk about practices and tools. The Spine Model introduction provides a little more explanation.

This is an example found on the Spine Model wiki and how it can apply to agile.


From the perspective of __, we exist/want in order to __.

  • The organization exists to deliver high-quality product offereings in order to be competitive and make money.
  • The team exists to develop and deliver the right software features efficiently and incrementally in a continuously changing environment in order to support the organizations business goals.
  • The team member wants to work on exciting projects that allow them to make the decisions needed in order to best support both the users' and the organization's needs.


We optimize our development process for __.

  • Focus
  • Courage
  • Openness
  • Commitment
  • Respect
  • Feedback
  • Communication


Primary Agile Principles

  • We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Team Determined Principles

We leverage __ to __.

  • We allow for changes late in the development process to support the needs of our users.
  • We use working software to represent our primary measure of success.
  • We need autonomy to be a self-directed team capable of making decisions based on experiential knowledge to efficiently provide a quality deliverable.
  • We monitor and evaluate our progress and processes to help us continuously improve.


We __ to __.

  • We use retrospectives to help improve how we work together.
  • We work in sprints to minimize the impact of changes in priority.
  • We utilize daily scrum to communicate daily progress of our work.
  • We work remotely to support the flexibility of our team members.


We use __ to __.

  • We use a product backlog to help the product owner and team to determine the right work to do.
  • We use a Kanban board to create transparency of work in progress.
  • We use Jira to track our issues and monitor the velocity of our team.
  • We use Mural to conduct our retrospectives guide our efforts to continuously improve.

Agile Team Culture

When walking the spine, the conversation around values and principles will help define two critical agile agreements, the Social Contract, and Definition of Done. These two agreements help to:

  • Establish a self-directed team culture
  • Allow new team members to quickly understand team norms
  • Resolve team conflicts before they become an issue