Agile Leadership: Journey, Navigation and Transformation

Agile Leadership Agile

Agile Leadership: Journey, Navigation and Transformation

A leader with power becomes a great leader by empowering others!

An ode to all great leaders …

Empowering pays off
Dreams come true
Bad times don’t last
But good leaders do!!!

The Triangle of Agility depicts the practicing team, the management (leadership) and the customer engaging seamlessly to tap the full potential of professional agile delivery practices. In this blog, let us find out what is required from the leadership.

Section 1: Understanding the Journey of Agile Leadership:

At the very outset every leader who is looking forward to embark on the journey of Agile Leadership can benefit from the following:

  • The mindset, values, principles, practices and ways of working
  • The Triangle of Agility

Advocacy of the mindset, values, principles, practices and ways of working that make Agile delivery successful. The following aspects are helpful:

1. Overcoming fear of acceptance in Agile Delivery:

Anything new means that there is a need to embrace change. With change comes resistance. Resistance could be due to a variety of reasons, the most common one being fear. It’s quite natural that there is fear in accepting agile delivery as well. However it is important to understand what’s behind this fear.

Understanding that will be the first step in dealing with it, and then taking subsequent steps to figure out ways to overcome such fears and to go forward and beyond. Read the full blog on “Overcoming fear of acceptance in Agile Delivery”

2. Mindset is the key:

Agile Delivery is an approach with a mindset based on a set of values, principles, practices and ways of working. Various frameworks and methods like Scrum, XP, Kanban, Lean, Nexus etc. are its proponents. Based on the context of the delivery, one or more Agile Delivery frameworks and methods can be used in conjunction.

Essence: Understand the Elements of Agility. Practice agility!

In the world of Agile delivery, it is important to start with a good mindset. Equip the Practitioners to Learn, Listen, Feel Empowered, Question and Elicit Feedback. An old proverb says “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” In Agile delivery, give a professional a framework, and you groom the person for a project. Equip a professional to think (develop the right mindset), and you groom the person for a transformation.

Essence: A right mindset can create long term excellence!

  • Being conscious of the right mindset is important for Agile Delivery. How to move towards the right mindset?
    • Inertia to Momentum: From being inert move towards creating room for catalysts to create momentum
    • Rigidity to Flexibility: From being rigid, look forward to Unlearning, Learning as Continuous and Common Practices
    • Command and Control to Guiding: Leading from behind is as important as Leading from the front. Have a structure that is less hierarchic and more holacratic.
    • Perfection to Pragmatism: Right First Time (RFT) is good to have. Perfection is nice, being pragmatic better. RFT at 80:20 should find acceptance.
    • Being Yes Man / No Man to being Reasonable: Shift thinking from All Yes OR All No to a healthy mix of Yes and No
    • Attitude to Acceptance: Park cushions, egos and hierarchies outside the door. Strive towards building cohesive teams.

Essence: Practitioners, Team and Organizations moving from Left to Right, will help create and build the right mindset for Agile Delivery!

3. The Power of Values and Principles:

The Values behind the Manifesto for Agile Software Development insist on a shift in thoughts and actions. Read the 4 Values

Essence: The Values behind the Manifesto for Agile Software Development augment the mindset required to practice agility!

The Principles behind the Manifesto for Agile Software Development are the guiding factors. Read the 12 Principles

Here’s a take on those 12 Principles, while maintaining the sequence from the Manifesto:

  1. Collaborate with Business: The principles 1-3 focus on what’s important for a “Customer”
  2. Power your Teams: The principles 4-6 focus on the importance of “People” involved
  3. Practice and Promote Ways of Working: The principles 7-9 focus on what’s important from a “Process” perspective. Additionally, they also stand for “Progress”
  4. Keep Improving: The principles 10-12 focus on how to “Evaluate” for continuous improvement

Essence: The Principles behind the Manifesto for Agile Software Development are all-encompassing and enriching!

4. The significance of Practices and Ways of Working:

Few important Practices and Ways of Working are as follows:

  1. Agile Delivery Practices are deliberately designed to be lean. Strive towards lean practices.
  2. Estimation in Agile Delivery is effective because it is done for a small piece of work, based on what is known and is done for the short term. Short term practicality in estimation is what makes long term projection a possibility. Practice Agility in Estimation.
  3. Simple processes and frameworks create disciplined “ways of working” that guide knowledge workers to produce the desired outcomes. Simplicity at work is essential. Lean thinking is necessary to eliminate waste. Retain processes and frameworks that add value and provide guidance to the practices that can be followed by a team to collaborate and achieve a common goal. In agile delivery simple processes and frameworks that are lean and efficient produce optimal outcomes.

Essence: Integrating the Values and Principles in Practices and the Ways of Working makes the fundamentals strong and the whole approach and experience empirical!

5. Agile Delivery is not a “Silver Bullet”:

Switching to agile delivery expecting instant results is akin to expecting a magician to make the elephant disappear. Of course, agile delivery is magical in the sense that it can help you identify the elephant in the room. Only hard and smart work, collaboration and the intent to solve complex problems with agility and flexibility will make the elephant in the room gradually fade away. An Agile delivery approach is neither a “panacea” for all difficult problems nor a “silver bullet” for all complex challenges. Read the full blog “Agile Delivery is not a Silver Bullet”

Realization of how the Triangle of Agility needs to be balanced with due consideration to Customer Collaboration and Building Practitioners and Teams:

6. The Triangle of Agility (Practicing Team, Management and Customer) explained:

A triangle with balance will be the essential premise for tapping the full potential of professional agile delivery practices. Without it, most practices will eventually be rendered sub-optimal or ineffective.

The 3 arms of the Triangle can be depicted by the following aspects which are mutually inclusive:

awareness, mindset and acceptance from…“the Practicing Team”
realization and advocacy from…“the Management (Leadership)” (internal stakeholders,
senior management, PMO etc.)
willingness and provision for opportunities from…“the Customer”

Essence: Imbibe the discipline, show the maturity to transform from “Doing Agile” or saying “We’re Agile” to “Being Agile” or “Practicing Agility”!

7. Customer Collaboration:

Never hold the customer responsible for the problem. Remember, the customer came to you with the intention of getting the problem solved.


– is smart– Value customer’s thoughts
– can be tricky– Involve the customer
– is understanding– Ask and Acknowledge
– likes truthfulness– Point out and guide
– is reasonable– Be transparent and firm

Essence: Know, Understand, Engage and Collaborate with the customer. Demonstrate agility. This will reflect in your solutions and lead to customer satisfaction!

8. Building Practitioners and Teams:

Executing a project in Agile Delivery needs few of the traditionally conducted practices to be unlearned.

Traditionally these are some of the practices followed in Delivery:

  1. Start by Leading / Pulling from the front. Continue to Lead / Pull / Push – Command and Control Style
  2. Manage (Planning and Tracking) a Task Force / team of subordinates
  3. Delegate work while continuing to own the decision making via reported statuses

As part of unlearning, focus on:

— Leading from Behind-Inspire / Equip / Empower
— Creating Practitioners-Educate and Guide
— Giving Accountability-Help Deliver Value

Essence: Unlearning the traditional practices and drawing lines that should rarely (under exceptional circumstances only) be crossed will reduce / eliminate a lot of micro-managerial aspects in delivery and result in high performing teams!

Traditional delivery approaches dwell and thrive upon a top-down command and control structure. Agile delivery approaches tap the potential of collaboration to unleash the power of teamwork. A cross functional team that can self manage is better placed to deliver value continuously over a longer period of time. The birds that fly in V formation to cover long distances, don’t stop when the bird in front is tired. They simply change positions to add a greater flying range. Similarly, people sharing a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more efficiently because they travel on the thrust of one another. It is sensible to take turns doing demanding tasks and add a greater range to maintain constant pace for a longer period without getting tired as a team. This is what is expected out of an Agile Delivery Team.

Essence: Being cross-functional (as a team), cross-skilled (as a team member) and cross-available (as an individual for the team) will enable an Agile Delivery Team to strike a balance between maintaining constant pace and the need for it being indefinite (until the Product Delivery completes), without getting tired!

Section 2: How the 8 aspects mentioned in Section 1 unfold – Navigating the Agile Leadership Journey:

Once the foundation is set and the expectations are clear, the leader embarks on the journey and the navigation should happen with:

  • an open mindset to overcome fear
  • to imbibe and instill the values and principles
  • to adopt and adapt to the practices and ways of working
  • the eagerness to unlearn and learn
  • conscious intent to delegate and lead from behind
  • belief and advocacy for a pragmatic approach to implement the Triangle of Agility, focus on Customer
    Collaboration and the need to build Practitioners and Team

The 8 aspects described above serve as guidance throughout in various situations.

Section 3: Bringing it all to life – Transforming into an Agile Delivery Leader:

While navigating through the aspects listed above, the leader:

  • promotes agile delivery, devops, design thinking, lean thinking, automation etc.
  • creates space for budding practitioners to grow
  • builds agile delivery teams
  • creates a culture that can transform traditional command and control driven engagements, teams and units into self managing, cross functional, value driven ones.

Knowing “as-is” as it is and then doing as need be to achieve the “to-be” will lead to what is to be and not to be! While aspiring to transform is a good thought, taking a practical approach towards it is very important.

As-is: Assess and summarize the present situation as it is. As a leader, identify and acknowledge the problem and probably accept that one needs to be equipped to solve it (do the transformation).
To-be: Decide what the future state should be and anticipate to do as need be. As a leader, do what is needed to be equipped to solve the problem (do the transformation).

What is required to transform will be the action plan. This needs willingness, a good mindset, agility and skills to execute. Nothing will happen overnight, but it will be a good start. With an action plan rolled out for transformation (from as-is to to-be), outcomes, tangible experience and sustenance will start showing up like never before and that could be the beginning of greater things to come!

The beauty of such an Agile Delivery Transformation is that the leader sets out on a journey to navigate the intricacies of what is required to “Inform-Conform-Transform”. As part of the journey, the leader transforms into an Agile Delivery Leader and also transitions the traditional model of delivery into one that is flexible, pragmatic and helps deliver optimal value to businesses driven by agility.

How the leader navigates and helps realize such a transformation will be instrumental in transforming the leader into an Agile Delivery Leader. And thus the Journey, the Navigation and the Transformation!

About the Author

Chethan Kumar Baliga

Agile Delivery Leader | Helping teams SUCCEED in AGILE Transformation journeys | Weekly Posts – Agile Elements | PAL©, CSM©, SAFE©

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