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Agile Leadership

Create Agile Leaders First

Agile has been around for quite some time now. The big dogs, Scrum and Extreme Programming, have been around since the late 90’s, just a little over 20 years! Wow how time flies.

I’ve been teaching classes on Agile for quite some time now…just a little over 10 years. Early on, it was really just a Scrum class, but over the years it has evolved quite a bit to include Lean, Kanban, Extreme Programming, etc. depending on what is best for the organization.

Most of the time when I teach classes it’s for a company that’s already started their agile journey, as most claim they have. So going into each class I have some assumptions, primarily that management has a basic understanding of agile and understand their role in the transition. I also assume that the teams have some rudimentary understanding of the basic principles of agile.

However, during the classes I typically hear these kinds of comments/questions throughout.

  • Our Scrum Master is on at least 5 other projects.
  • We don’t have a Product Owner.
  • We have to track our time on every story, how do we do that in Jira?
  • We spend about 3 months creating a requirements document. Why do we need a Product Backlog?
  • QA is on a different team.
  • Management won’t let us add new stories until it goes to the change review board.

And the list goes on an on. Obviously they either started off on the wrong foot or they have lost their way.

How can we avoid this? Or, how can we course correct? The magic ingredient is to create agile leaders first, before you create agile teams. The best way to kill an agile transition is to ignore the role management must play.

Now, this isn’t an all or nothing proposition. I’m not saying “every manager must become an agile leader in this entire organization before we start working with the teams”. Heaven forbid. We need to approach the agile transition in an agile way of course! For example, if a specific division is chosen to start the journey, let’s begin by having some workshops and coaching with management in that division first, then we will weave in the teams. If you start with the teams while ignoring management, and tell the teams to “go forth and be agile”, management will not understand their role and will unintentionally become impediments. That’s where you get all the “Agile Sucks!” rants online.

Now, if a company approaches me for training to “make their development teams agile”, I let them know that they must start with management. I also let them know that training alone is not enough. Ignoring these two things almost guarantees failure.

So, what do you think? Should we start with creating agile leaders first or is it okay just to train up the teams, ignore management and call it a day? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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