Nov 14, 2007

Personality Types and Agile Development

You've no doubt heard of the various types of personality profiles that exist (you can try a free one at The most common profile is the Briggs-Myers one though there is also one for a DPSA profile.

The following is from the Marker Consulting description of DPSA profiles

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.

And if you don't know Briggs-Myers profile it tries to type all people using four classifications:

  • 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.

Personally I came out as strong Driver on the DPSA profile, and an INTJ (Introvert, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging) with a very strong Thinking component.  No real surprise for those who know me.


One of the interesting things is that if you look at a basic description of an INTJ you'll see the following:

"When they are in leadership roles, they are quite effective, because they are able to objectively see the reality of a situation, and are adaptable enough to change things which aren't working well."

Why is this interesting?  Simply put, Agile methodologies are all about adapting how things are done to the situation at hand. And this is exactly what an INTJ leans towards.

This then leads on to another question.  Does agile only work if people have the right personality type?

For me, as  a Driver with an INTJ personality, agile is right up my alley.  But what if you're an Administrator or Supporter, or you're the opposite to an INTJ?  Can you still succeed on an agile project?  Will you find it as painful as a visit to the Dentist or as tedious as waiting for a Qantas flight?

It's a tough question, but one worth asking.

If you flip the agile coin and think about Waterfall projects and then have look at the personality overviews you could think that the ISTJ personalities would seem ideally suited to Waterfall.  Fixed requirements delivered using a methodical, traditional approach.  So if you put these types of people in an agile project wouldn't it make them really uncomfortable having to deal with uncertainty day in and day out?  Could that result in team friction, poor morale or a host of other problems?

Does it mean that forming teams means you need to have only people of certain personality types?

It's a really interesting set of questions and something I've been thinking about for quite some time.


So, to apply some very non-scientific research to my theory I'd like to do a straw poll of any who's worked in an agile project:

What's your personality type (both DPSA and Briggs-Myers if possible)?  And how much did you/do you enjoy agile development?

Post your responses as a comment.  I'm really curious to see the results.


  1. I'm an ESTP ( Extroverted Sensing Thinking Perceiving personality. I've held three professional positions now in three different companies and I have found myself most happy and content in an Agile environment. Big corporate environments tend to depress me and make me feel overwhelmed with bureaucracy and busy-work. In agile I feel much more in control and able to make a bigger impact. The day to day uncertainties drive and motivate me.

    From another perspective, I see other personalities on my team that I think if they were asked the question you pose, they would say the opposite. There are some who would feel more comfortable in a very slow-steady environment that a big IT shop allows. They are also the people who get very stressed and overwhelmed with a workload that they're unsure they can handle.

    That being said, 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.

    Regardless of this debate, I believe that a good attitude is the most important quality for an agile developer to have.

    Great thought provoking post.

  2. Steve,
    Thanks for the respone!

    The issue of team makeup and individual attitudes is a good one and becomes much more involved when you consider that most people have minimal control over the types of people in their teams and the attitudes those people bring to the table, and what can make it trickier is that the development methodology is often set without regard to whose those people may be.

  3. Hi Richard, I'm an ENFJ. I'm not sure that I'm as polar as saying:

    Do I enjoy Agile? Yes/No

    These days I tend to be much more focussed on higher level problems - and all development tends to become a bit of an implementation detail.

    Therefore, I could say that I like development projects to be well run. Does that cover it appropriately? :-)

  4. @Darren: Of course it does. If ever there was someone who was going to answer with "It Depends" I figured it would be you :-)

  5. I'm an INTJ. I thoroughly love agile. It seems to just suit my personality. I like the freedom in being able to say "this sucks" and "fix it".

  6. Every time I take a test I flip between either INTJ, ENTJ, INTP and ENTP. But I definately have a driver personality.

    I actually enjoy the structure (and subsequent freedom within) Agile development, although I'm not slavish about it. I'm just slightly alergic to waterfall and bigbang development :)

  7. hello. I'm an ISTP/INTP (it varies) and I've been an agile advocate and practitioner since I came across Beck's white book, circa 99.

    Often I've been amongst the few in my teams getting and truly enjoying agile.

    Prolly just a coincidence, but the INTJs I've worked with tend to be the ones with the most difficulty with agile.

    INTJs (again, the ones I work/ed with) enjoy solo work or being the architect, prefer grand visions to "do the simplest thing that could possibly work" and pay less attention to detail, preferring to see software as a concept and not something that does need to work.

    I would still work with INTJs or any other type, since I think Myers Briggs is as relevant as the Zodiac, but I wanted to debunk the intj/agile idea.

    1. Juilo, as an INTJ I can unequivocally say that you absolutely correct; I absolutely despise the agile development process. The INTJ is the most introverted of all personality types, and there are a lot of INTJ personality types that tend to go into software development. With all the daily planning meetings, sprint planning meetings, weekly retrospective meetings, it just seemed to me that agile was created by extroverts to turn introverts into extroverts (something that extroverts always seem inclined to do for some bizarre reason).

  8. @julio. Really? That's a very interesting thing to hear. I wonder then what you'd attribute the difference to between those that "get" agile and those that don't?

    Maybe the DPSA measure may be more appropriate. I wonder if you're a Driver and those that struggle are at the other end of the spectrum (the adminsitrative types)?

  9. I realize it's been nearly 2 years since you posted this, but it's a topic I am very interested in, as the development team I work with is currently transitioning to agile.

    I am an administrator and an INFJ/P. I say J/P because I always test right on the line. My results seem to change depending on whether I'm thinking about work or home when I take the test. I tend to be more J in my professional life, and more P in my personal life.

    Agile feels less organized than what I was doing on my own before. Some members of my team really like the organization and structure that agile provides. But I often feel lost without my notes and my long-range plan.

    I enjoy pair-coding in spurts, and with certain people much more than others. But I feel extremely drained after spending a full day in a group work environment. I find that I'm tired all the time now.

    What I do like about agile is the way it's changed our interaction with the rest of our company. We let the business experts make decisions about how we prioritize our projects, based on what business value they bring. We have business experts come and sit with us, so we can ask questions and involve them in design. We are no longer designing and developing in an IT bubble.

    My whole department, 6 team members, took a little quiz to get our DPSA results. We have two drivers, two promoters, two administrators (myself included), and no supporters.

    The promoters seem to really love agile, and they seem energized by it. The drivers are not actually developers, though they are part of the development team. They seem to appreciate being more involved in discussions and decision making. The two administrators are the most lukewarm, both of us needing time away from the group in order to recharge, and both of us waiting to see how this transition turns out before we make a judgment on whether it's been successful or not.

    I would love to hear what you think of all this. Personality types have always been interesting to me, and since we all did the DSPA analysis, I've been looking for more information about personality as it related to agile, and development in general.

    -- Andrea

  10. INTJ. I have a Personality Types page on my site. Also links to my own very detailed page about INTJ. Always good to meet another.