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Agile Coaches' Corner shares practical concepts in an approachable way. It is for agile practitioners and business leaders seeking expert advice on improving the way they work to achieve their desired outcomes. If you have a topic you'd like discussed, email it to, or tweet it with #agilethoughtpodcast.

Jun 7, 2019

Your host, Dan Neumann, is going solo this episode to explore the topic of cognitive bias. It’s impossible for us to logically process every piece of information we receive, so our brain has come up with shortcuts — simpler ways of processing information. Though this can serve us really well, unfortunately, to process information rapidly our brain has developed biases.


Today Dan covers many of the common cognitive biases, why they’re evolutionary helpful, and how they can affect agile teams. He also provides examples and gives solutions on how to combat these biases in an agile team. Some of the biases he covers are the anchoring bias, optimism bias, availability bias, illusory superiority, attribution bias, and the Dunning-Kruger effect.


Tune in to discover the cognitive biases you may not even know you had and learn how to combat them!


Key Takeaways

What is cognitive bias?

An error in the way our brain processes information

It’s impossible for us to logically process every piece of information we receive, so our brain has come up with shortcuts; simpler ways of processing information

Our brain has developed biases in order to process information rapidly

Common biases:

Information biases: errors in the way we process information (includes: anchoring, optimism, and availability biases)

Ego biases: errors in the way we see ourselves (includes illusory superiority)

Anchoring bias (where an individual relies too heavily on an initial piece of information offered to make subsequent decisions)

Optimism bias (where we generally believe ourselves to be less prone to negative events)

Availability bias (where we judge how important or how likely something is by how easy it is to think of an example)

Illusory superiority (known as the “above average” bias; we consider ourselves)

Attribution bias (where we tend to attribute our own successes to our innate abilities and our failures to bad luck, and others’ successes to circumstance and failures to incompetence)

Dunning-Kruger effect (where unskilled people tend to be overconfident and overestimate their abilities and highly skilled people underestimate their abilities and become frustrated with others)

How do cognitive biases affect agile teams?

Anchoring bias over-weights the first piece of information presented

Under pressure, anchoring can become even more pronounced

Anchoring in a retrospective can lead the meeting to revolve around the first topic mentioned

Optimism bias isn’t so helpful in a complex adaptive system, building software, and working in teams

Availability bias can affect those design systems because when we’re not clear about the end user we’re targeting; we tend to use our own references

How to combat and moderate cognitive biases:

Combat anchoring with silent writing, planning poker, and by simply sleeping on it to remove the pressure

Combat optimism bias by processing more complex information using the “beyond budgeting” approach: estimate, budget, and the expected outcome

Combat optimism by considering the opposite, many alternatives, or alternative plausibility

Combat availability bias by really doing your research; be aware you’re most prone to recall your most recent or most memorable event and conduct experiments to prove or disprove your bias

Moderate ego bias by creating safety; model getting feedback, evaluate the work and not the individual, bring data, and broaden your perspective


Mentioned in this Episode:

Anchoring bias

Optimism bias

Availability bias

Illusory superiority

Attribution bias

Dunning-Kruger effect

Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review, by Norman L. Kerth

Agile Coaches Corner Ep. 26: “How an Effective Leader Coaches with Joseph Carella


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