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Agile Program Management, Enterprise Agile Planning

Agile Leaders: How to Better Help Your Organization Scale Agile

Part 2: The final two areas in which agile leaders can improve to better scale agile.

Published By Emily Peterson

Female speaking to group of people

We know from experience that to successfully scale agile across the organization, you must hire and retain the right talent. Additionally, current agile leaders need to take a good hard look in the mirror and understand their role and changes they need to make in order for the organization to reap the benefits of scaling agile.

As you read in the first part of this blog series, agile leaders need to improve their understanding of agile and how it works, along with practicing agile thinking. By taking the time to learn, you can provide insight and knowledge to the enterprise, helping guide the overall initiative. Practicing agile thinking in your day-to-day builds trust amongst your peers and employees by showing your commitment to scaling agile throughout the organization.

There are two additional areas of improvement needed for agile leaders to consider when scaling across an organization.

3. Actually Being Agile

Unfortunately, many aspiring leaders struggle to follow agile principles in their day-to-day operations. This is because the role of leadership shifts, causing a lot of managers confusion in their role and expectations to the organization. Many leaders slip back into their old ways of managing as a result.

We mentioned in the first blog that agile leaders don’t use the same command-and-control approach as traditional leaders. Instead, agile leaders are considered a part of the value stream and lead the team by providing strategic input that helps individual teams deliver the highest value work first. Agile leaders must also understand the needs of their customers and bring that information to the team for consistent feedback.

The main difference between agile teams and agile leaders lies in their responsibilities. Teams take a hands-on approach to solving problems and delivering value. Whereas leaders monitor the progress of those teams, helping to remove impediments and re-allocate work when a block is identified.

On top of that, an agile leader keeps an open channel of communication between management and individual team members. Leadership and team members must have the ability to ask questions and receive answers, provide feedback, and brainstorm the best path forward. Aside from that, leaders are expected to avoid micromanaging, instead focusing on the strategic direction of the organization and providing the value streams the space to complete the work.

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4. Measuring Success

The last area that aspiring agile leaders should focus on is measuring success.

In traditional leadership roles, management measures success by looking at costs, conversion rates, and increased sales to define success. But in an agile organization, where team members are empowered, success is measured differently.

Managers working in agile organizations provide teams the space to innovate, not how or what to innovate. Instead of measuring success by achieving specific metrics, success is measured by how the value stream or team performs against the overall outcomes, either specific to the value stream or the entire organization. Agile leaders set the initiative and explore ways to help teams reach those outcomes, which in turn provide value to the organization.

But that doesn’t mean agile leaders don’t track key performance indicators (KPIs). There are a number of metrics to measure agility, including:

  • Return on investment (ROI).
  • Cost of delay.
  • Risk levels.
  • Customer and employee pain points and how those challenges weigh against your company’s capabilities and constraints.

Oftentimes, organizations blindly implement agile and try to scale without key metrics to follow. This becomes incredibly problematic when you ask the question, “Is our investment in agile paying off?” Understanding and measuring KPIs like the ones above is essential for helping leaders adopt a data-driven approach to scaling agile and provide the groundwork for determining if agile is “successful”. And, make sure you measure at all levels of the organization; not just the team-level, but the enterprise as a whole.

Areas of Improvement: The Recap

Take some time to look at your current management or leadership style. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Do you understand agile and how it works? Don’t just assume you know it all. Do your research.
  • Are you able to practice agile thinking in your day-to-day? Empower your teams to make decisions based on the knowledge you provide to them. Encourage these best practices.
  • Do you have open lines of communication and are you helping remove impediments?
  • Are you able to track metrics without constantly interrupting your team? If not, find a platform that allows your organization to do this more effectively.

Scaling agile across an organization is difficult. The best way to approach this is to prepare yourself with as much knowledge as possible so that you can help be the change agent your organization needs to set up a path to success.

If you want to learn more about agile leadership and how to improve yourself to help scale agile across your organization, download our eBook on agile leadership.


Enterprise Kanban for Scaling Agile Teams eBook

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Written by Emily Peterson Sr. Demand Generation Manager

Emily Peterson is a Demand Gen Manager for Planview's Enterprise Agile Planning Solution, focusing on helping organizations achieve agility on their terms and timeline. She uses her professional experience in Agile marketing (as the RTE) to leverage new ways of working across the organization, connecting all parts of the business to the overall goals of the organization.