There are four leadership concepts that can double the chances that your agile transformation will be effective. These four concepts are not new, but they require a degree of passion and constancy of purpose that are often missing.  The constancy of purpose was the first point in W. Edward Deming’s 14 points for management (Out of The Crisis – 1982 MIT Press) that has rewritten management and leadership philosophy across the globe. Deming’s philosophies form the bedrock for the Agile and lean revolution in which we are currently engulfed, so we ignore Deming at our own peril.  Agile delivers great benefits, but those benefits require leadership and vision to provide motivation and constancy of purpose. The first two of the four cornerstones that define agile leadership that delivers are:

  1. Behavior – Simply put, you are what you do. Define and explicitly state how you want people to behave in addition to expressing the values you want to be emulated. Behaviors are the true window to the soul and a direct reflection of how an individual interprets values and culture. Nearly every change leader understands (or at least will state) that values and culture are critical.   Agile practitioners and pundits are no different and generally expound on the core agile values.  Values like empowerment, alignment, transparency, and building in quality are just some of the values that we place at the core of Agile. The disconnect often occurs between how each person in the value chain translates their own definition of values into behavior.  Strong Agile leaders focus on behaviors as the immutable translation of values and culture.  Just as one of the principles in the Agile Manifesto is that the only real measure of progress is functional code, Agile leaders know that the only real definition of values and culture is behavior.  Explicitly define the behaviors you want in your organization and then execute behaviors.

    As an example of the disconnect between exposed values and behavior, I have performed an informal poll in organizations that promote empowerment as one of their primary values. In almost every case when I asked for the best example of empowerment, I was greeted with a deer-in-headlights look. Every person I asked had a difficult time remembering an example. There was very little linkage of the organizational value and the day-to-day behavior.  In a few cases, when pressed, the examples of empowerment that emerged related to the ability to make rules that disempowered others.  In that case, one person’s definition of empowerment was certainly not the definition the person on the receiving end had in mind.

    The values you exhibit through behavior matter more than those you only espouse in words.
  2.  Goals – Set tangible goals that reflect the outcome you want to see as a result of the transformation.  Goals must focus on both the outcomes and the behaviors required to achieve those outcomes. The bar must be set high enough to channel the energies of the organization toward accomplishment, while at the same time be achievable so that those charged with the goal can be held accountable. There is little motivational value to setting goals that are recognizable as lost causes as soon as they are set.Setting a high bar for an organization’s product or program’s deliverable alone is not sufficient.  As the headlines in the Wall Street Journal have suggested, goals that focus specifically on one aspect of output can lead to unintended consequences.  Wells Fargo and fictitious accounts jump to mind as an example.  Goals must encompass both the outcome as well as the journey to that outcome or destination.  Several years ago, my eldest daughter convinced my wife and me to go Machu Picchu and to traverse the Sun Gate at dawn. Definitely a high bar for a middle-aged couple living a whopping 600 feet above sea level.  If our only goal was to get to Machu Picchu we could have taken the train.  Instead, we set two goals, first to hike the Inca Trail and then to arrive at the Sun Gate at the appointed hour.  The “trek” part of the goals fundamentally changed our behavior, the trek included three-plus days of hiking, climbing, crawling, sweating and an occasionally exasperated utterance at somewhere between 8 and 12 thousand feet above sea level. The journey changed how we perceived the ultimate goal and guided how we attained that goal in order to derive the maximum value.  Taking the train to Machu Picchu would not deliver the same enlightenment as toiling for days to attain that goal. Transforming and using Agile requires involvement in the journey; learning to read a burndown chart, understanding how the product backlog relates to and supports organizational goals, or perhaps even using Agile practices to guide work you are leading are evidence that you are on the same journey as those you lead.  Shortcutting the goals of Agile transformation by not participating in the journey sends the equivalent message as taking the train: that the journey is not part of the transformation.

Becoming Agile and staying Agile in an organization is not the outcome of reading a proclamation and declaring victory.  There is a lot of hard work to actually transform an organization and then keep it transformed.  Part of the work is to express the values that are the bedrock of the organization. But more important is to define how you want EVERYONE in the organization to behave (and no, I am not suggesting stealing a page from the Stepford Wives) based on those values.  Expressing the behaviors that are expected is a far less ambiguous means of setting expectations than expressing the need to embrace values alone. Defining behaviors provides a path to attaining organizational goals.  Leaders recognize that Agile or any other framework is just a means to deliver value.  

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