Leading Agile

Leading Agile: Laying the Foundation for Success

While Agile offers myriad benefits to an organization, the fact is: adoption and subsequent success of software development projects across the board could be better long-term. Why, when we have a system that has proven to work for countless organizations in various verticals, do initiatives still fail, or else the whole Agile endeavor peters out after a few months or years?

While there are many reasons why Agile approaches can fail, inadequate Agile leadership can be a large contributing factor. Note that it’s not necessarily inadequate leadership, because you can have the most stellar executive leader, but if she doesn’t know how to lead and support an Agile team, she can put it at great disadvantage.

Why Coaches and Consultants Can’t Save Your Organization 

Organizations spend millions on Agile coaches and consultants, then point the finger when, a few months down the road, the “whole Agile thing” has gone off the rails. Is it really the fault of these Agile professionals?

Not at all.

Coaching and consulting can only take a team so far, but beyond that, it’s up to leadership to foster an Agile mindset and behaviors which support and sustain an agile environment.

The Makings of an Agile Leader

So what’s the difference between a leader and an Agile leader?

An Agile leader understands that rapid change, complexity, and uncertainty are central to the role, and can operate effectively in such challenging conditions. She knows and can apply Agile values, approaches, and practices to her own thinking and behaviors to foster creative solutions through increased engagement, feedback and self-awareness.

An Agile leader knows how to engage her employees, and can align, empower and free them to deliver increasingly more customer value.

Feedback and collaboration are important to the Agile leader. She understands that continuous improvement is crucial to foster long-term organizational change.

Reading the Compass of Agility

I’ve developed a tool to provide orientation and direction for Agile leaders: the Agile Leadership Compass. Like a traditional compass, there are four directions: north and south represent the opposing views of the leader and organization. And representing true north is the leader herself – the leader who does not first develop herself as a leader will likely be ineffective at developing others or the organization as a whole.

East and west directions represent the opposing internal and external aspects of the leader and organization. How leaders think impacts how leaders act, and what organizations value impacts how organizations deliver, sustain, and grow.

I’ve noticed that the focus of most Agile initiatives is toward the southwest, focused on organizational delivery. However, without first orienting the leaders and enabling the organization, these early results often don’t last. That’s why I encourage balance for Agile leaders:

  • Leader: Agile Leaders role model agility through their own adaptive thinking and behaviors.
  • Organization: Agile Leaders guide organizational agility inside out by creating a culture of safety to experiment, learn, and grow.
  • Enable: Agile Leaders enable agility through personally and organizationally living the Agile values.
  • Action: Agile Leaders exhibit catalyze behaviors and guide organizational delivery and change.

Where Certified Agile Leadership Comes Into Play

Having a solid Agile leader can create a solid foundation for long-term Agile success in an organization, but how do we get from Point A, where executives are aware of Agile and maybe even support it, to Point B, where they are actively taking a role in its success?

And how do we make leaders aware that there is even a journey to take? Once they’re aware, how do we convince them to actually take that journey?

These very questions have long been up for debate among Agile professionals like myself, as well as organizations like Scrum Alliance. I am happy to say that a solution has been developed: the Certified Agile Leadership Program.

Anyone who is involved in implementing Agile, from the person who signs the checks to those leading Agile teams, can now get a better roadmap to help them strengthen Agile practices within their company.

The course is designed to increase the effectiveness of those involved in Agile, as well as foster continual learning and interaction with Agile. When leaders become Agile leaders, they increase the success rate of Agile implementation and long-term — or even permanent — adoption.

While the broader certification program is in its infancy, the work and experience behind it are anything but. I have been focusing and guiding leaders across these dimensions for the past half decade, but I fully expect that, once executives and leaders see the value of increasing their fluency in Agile, it will become a requirement for all aspiring Agile leaders.

Ready to take that journey? Start by understanding more about Agile Leadership, then please consider attending a Certified Agile Leadership Workshop. The Certified Agile Leadership tour will be in Hyderabad and Bangalore, India in June, Chicago in July, Denver in August, Zurich in September, and more coming soon.  Click here to see the updated list of workshops.

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