Moving Toward The Light!

The fact that leadership is critical in an Agile transformation should not be too shocking. As noted in Leadership: A Cycle to Deliver Transformation, leadership is a critical component to attaining any goal.   Leadership provides a focus for an organization in transition.  The phrase “providing a focus” doesn’t refer to a single simple skill, but requires that leaders guide organizations in many ways, all of which are important to facilitate change.  In order to generate focus, leadership provides:

  1. Vision – Leaders provide a picture or manifestation of the future which helps the organization understand why they are being asked to change and the rough parameters of the of the future state.  Developing a tangible understanding of the destination is very useful in overcoming resistance. Tony Manno, Premios Group, when asked about the importance of leadership quoted the following definition of a leader to drive his point home: “An effective leader is a person who creates an inspiring vision of the future.  They motivate and inspire people to engage with that vision.”
  2. Adaptive management – Leaders use adaptive management to reduce uncertainty.  Adaptive management uses an iterative process of decision making to break down the events that create uncertainty.  Adaptive management is most effective for addressing change when leaders take a systems perspective and leverage input from the whole system to guide decisions. A leader leveraging adaptive management breaks the ground so that transformation can follow.  Andrew Schreiber, HHMI, described the role of leaders as “master navigators or way finders for the teams.”
  3. Systems/Lean Management – Leaders own the organization’s internal eco-system and workflows.  Transformation requires changing the environment in which work gets done.  Leaders own the creation of an environment in which respect for people and their time exists.  This includes simple items such as demanding that people are on time for meetings or ensuring that decision making is pushed down and individuals are empowered to make decisions inside the workflow.  Steve Woodward, Cloud Solutions, described the leader’s role as including “assuring right amounts of governance is in place while still embracing the agile manifesto.”

Leadership exists in many places and layers in an organization.  The leader enables change by getting everyone on the same page and making sure the organization’s eco-system isn’t acting like an antibody, actively working to reject the change. Michael King of Halfaker and Associates (interviewed on SPaMCAST 455) stated: “an Agile organization without strong leadership can spin their wheels without clarifying of focus/backlog.” For an organization to have any chance of transforming with Agile, senior and executive leaders must step to the forefront and make stuff happen!