Three Difficult Questions for Managers and Leadership

The largest of the first sessions at the Agile Open SoCal Conference was on anti-patterns. It was facilitated by one of our coaches and Dave Brown, a wonderful agile leader at First American. And it was disrupted by me. The attendees from numerous companies at various stages listed over two dozen common problems. These people knew from experience and had stories to tell, of how agile gets derailed.
managers and Leadership agile

Almost every one of the issues listed involved Managers and Leadership…
I hesitate to even write about leadership, because I feel time and attention to the subject is pulled in so many directions without getting real results.

Three Questions

So, based on what I heard yesterday, let me just give you three quick, practical (and likely difficult) questions that could make a world of difference to your agile adoption.

  1. Have you gone through agile training? I’ve had a number of managers attend my Certified ScrumMaster class in order to understand fundamentally how Scrum works and the benefits, challenges, and impact of making the change. But as of last year, the Scrum Alliance offers the Certified Agile Leadership workshop that focusses on how the role of managers and leadership changes, how to influence the organization’s culture, and how to grow personally as a leader.
  2. Are your company’s reasons for going to agile clear and agreed upon by the rest of managers and leadership? Are there a few clear, realistic and measurable wins you’re looking for that everyone in the organization sees and understands? Don’t go agile for the sake of going agile. Change is hard, and with no clear goal, it will just thrash people and groups.
  3. Do you spend time with the teams? Do you attend the demos? Observe the stand-ups? Too often, agile is seen as an IT change, and management hardly shows it’s face, much less be involved, or (ideally) LEAD the change effort. With it relegated and localized to IT only, the business continues to operate as normal, locking down (unclear) requirements up front, throwing them over the wall to IT, and waiting for the timer to go off and the product be delivered. All of this without much collaboration. It’s effectively waterfalling the development phase using sprints, but that’s all. Did waterfall work for you in the past?

Okay, I lied…

…one more question. And this is the one that’s been bugging me since a chat with the agile leader at a large insurance company:
Do you think you’re making real change simply because there’s a lot of activity?
Or do you see real results? And it’s not (just) velocity. That’s easy to game. Where are you at with quality metrics, predictability, cycle time, Net Promoter Score, Employee NPS, % of time spent on innovation vs maintenance?
As I was convinced by Craig Larman, the co-creator of LeSS, Scrum is fundamentally an organizational redesign. Yes, that’s big and scary and messy. But if you are facing the hockey stick of fast and disruptive innovation in your marketplace, keeping your current structure and process and approach, while doing small, safe changes of limiting the change to only IT is perhaps simply polishing the brass on the Titanic.
Come to the Southern California Agile Leadership Summit to hear stories of change from leaders in the trenches, as well as leadership coaches. October 9th at the Disney Hotel, and followed by the two day Certified Agile Leadership workshop.

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