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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Essential Leadership behaviors for Agile Transformation

In the recent Scrum Coaches Retreat that I attended, I saw a pattern where majority of the topics presented for discussion centered on organizational transformation and implementing agile correctly. The topics ranged from change management traits for individuals and organizations, executive leadership behaviors, coaching approaches for executive leadership, coaching for non-technology groups to implement agile, facilitation techniques for team trust, and scaling agile for coaching within an organization. Having established, led, and managed a program management office (PMO) in a healthcare IT and professional services industry and with a strong desire on leadership behaviors through project management and product development, I joined the team on this theme seeing an increasing focus around executive leadership behaviors for leading organizations to embrace agile successfully (“Build an Agile Organization Executive Coaching”, 2013).

Following the agile principles of user story development, our group with backgrounds from multiple industries began identifying the major categories of persona in today’s leadership that lacked understanding or came with a traditional mindset in transformation. These observations were later shared across the various participants from numerous countries during our daily retrospectives to further refine our persona categories. The major themes of persona classification of executives evolved are listed as follows that I have reordered in a continuous spectrum of the knowledge of agile in their implementation challenges.

Resistant: The executives that fall into this category are those that have a generational gap leading to a resistance in change. The relevance to current ways of managing projects or understanding product development is not in the radar screen for taking the organization to the next level. These leaders are more task oriented managers than leaders who feel challenged that agile may not add value. “It has been working for me and so I see no need for agile” is the theme behind such leadership.

Never heard of agile: The executives that fall into this category are open to ideas but are unfamiliar of the agile framework.  This group’s lack of understanding may arise due to many reasons such as their own personality towards new learning, lack of initiative, and firm’s industry representation to understand new trends. These members often rely on experience of others bringing in consultant experience or another senior member to implement the transformation. If the consultant or the senior members fail to apprise of the executives of the implementation challenges in product development, skills reorientation, and the structure required for agile development to thrive, then, these executives lose faith in Agile.
Big Vision: These groups of executives understand that their current structure is not in line with their big vision for growth. They recognize that they need to develop products differently for competitive position of themselves in the market place or excelling in doing things efficiently. They have heard of the agile framework through their own due diligence to implement their growth ideas and look forward to their delegates for support.

Misinformed: Similar to object oriented programming where the subclass inherit characteristics of super class,  this group of executives have had bad experience from the earlier bad implementation in their organization or in a different organization. Their “bad taste” of agile implementation shouldn’t be attributed to agile framework’s failure but the failure of those leaders or consultants that didn’t implement a stable and scalable solution.

Metric Oriented: Some executives have a natural instinct to not just focus on the profit motive but also establish key performance indicators. But lack of having correct types of metrics and threshold to begin with may impede successful implementation.

Insufficient Experience: This final group leans on those consultants or senior members that are brought into the organization just because they have implemented agile in their previous job. As Boyatzis and McKee (2005) noted, these high-profile members need to understand the emotional makeup of the new organization and not just their own personal success in their previous job. The reliance on a structure or set of tools that they had found useful previously but failure to understand the new organizational structure, impediments, and product makeup among others add up to the challenge of insufficient experience that these roles bring to implement agile transformation successfully.

In the end, the successful implementation relies on proper coaching of the organizational executive for leadership behaviors that they need to inculcate to succeed leading to forming a team that can coach and train the organization. If the leadership has not bought into the fundamental twelve agile principles for successful agile transformation and middle management members like functional team leads and project management not trained on product ownership, project team leadership, process governance, and client management, then, the fragile leadership should be held accountable for agile framework’s failure.

Do you think there may be other persona besides these persona classifications?

Build an Agile organization executive coaching (2013). Scrum Coaches Retreat. Retrieved December 17, 2013, from

Boyatzis, R.E. & McKee, A. (2005). Resonant leadership: Renewing yourself and Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

1 comment:

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