There are four leadership concepts that can double the chances that your agile transformation will be effective. They are:

  1.   Behavior – The values you exhibit through behavior matter more than those you only espouse in words.
  2.    Goal – Goals define where the transformation is going.  
  1.    Self-Awareness – Agile leaders must be self-aware. Self-awareness is having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. Building on the understanding of self allows a leader to understand other people. Self-awareness is a first step for leaders to put their own baggage aside and to support others.  Change in the workplace is difficult. Being good at conflict management and exposing issues is important for leadership when leading change, but if a leader not good at understanding his or her own cognitive and emotional biases it will be difficult for the wannabe leader to connect with those around him or her and for others to follow. The linkage between self-awareness and transformational leadership is not merely pop psychology.  In recent years the academic literature has empirically established the relationship between self-awareness and transformational leadership.



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: (more…)

A significant amount of transformation and leadership literature centers on establishing or changing the culture centered on values. Instant problem.  According to the Harvard Business Review online article on organizational culture (May 2013)  “there is little consensus on what organizational culture actually is.” There are two common threads in the definition of organizational culture; definitions that center on value, and definitions that center on behaviors. Many change leaders espouse value-centric definitions.  This decision causes them to focus their efforts on changing values in order to change the culture. These change programs are immediately starting in a difficult position. Values are amorphous.  Every individual interprets specific values differently.  For example, I asked several friends to define creativity.  Each person had a different definition.  Some of the differences were more than mere nuances.  Our individual interpretations would make the outcome of embracing the value of creativity unpredictable.  The variability of how we interpret values make it difficult create a common vision and then elicit a common outcome. Diversity makes this issue even more problematic.   As someone schooled in the need for measurement and feedback, the lack of a clear definition makes monitoring and measuring a change in the values at best difficult and often outside of the expertise of most internal measurement groups.  Without a clear definition and without a mechanism for monitoring change, talking about values is merely window dressing. (more…)

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!  


From the Princess Bride

Leadership is a critical requirement to attain any significant goal.  The transmission mechanism from leadership to action (and back again) can be distilled into a finite set of actions.  These actions represent a cycle.  Good leaders hit every step in this cycle.  Good leaders: (more…)

Leadership provides vision and the motivation needed to push the boundaries, change direction and challenge the status quo.  Each leader takes a different path; therefore, there is a myriad of leadership (and leadership’s alter ego: management) styles, however, there are three leadership archetypes typically seen in Agile teams.  They are: (more…)

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SPaMCAST 448 features our essay on uncertainty. Al Pittampalli said, “uncertainty and complexity produce anxiety we wish to escape.” Dealing with uncertainty is part of nearly everything we do our goal should be to address uncertainty head on.

The second column features Steve Tendon talking about Tame The Flow: Hyper-Productive Knowledge-Work Performance, The TameFlow Approach and Its Application to Scrum and Kanban published J Ross (buy a copy here). We tackle Chapter 18.  

Our third column is the return of Jeremy Berriault and his QA Corner. Jeremy discusses leading in  QA.  Jeremy  blogs at

Re-Read Saturday News

Chapter 10 concludes our re-read of Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World by Brian J. Robertson which was published by Henry Holt and Company in 2015.  This week’s chapter is titled, The Experience of Holacracy. In this chapter, Robertson wraps up most of the loose ends. Next week we will conclude this re-read with some final comments and thoughts. (more…)