Scaling Agile across an organization is a difficult undertaking. It takes careful planning and preparation to successfully implement a new approach that connects every team within your organization and requires goals and objectives to determine success. On top of that, good agile leaders must be flexible and willing to give teams the space they need to bring agile to their existing work delivery management methods.
Agile leaders play a major role in scaling agile successfully. Their role is to create an environment that facilitates creativity, thoughtfulness, and continuous improvement. But in order to do this, they need to first develop or enhance the skills necessary to become an effective agile leader.
In this blog, we’ll discuss two areas agile leaders can improve and focus to help their organization scale agile. Stay tuned for our next blog, which will dig into an additional two areas to consider.
1. Understanding Agile and How It Works
Remember, agile isn’t a collection of rules to follow. It’s an entirely different approach to work delivery. Everything from how features to stories to tasks are prioritized and assigned to the metrics that determine success is impacted. As such, it’s important for you to understand agile before you apply it, regardless if it’s at the team, program, or portfolio level.
In other words, you need to become a great agile student. Learn as much as you can and continue to educate yourself, so you can understand:
- Your goals and objectives as an agile leader and how you’re tracking against;
- How to manage teams using agile for their delivery; and
- What you should expect to get out of your team’s performance.
Understanding the ins and outs of agile is essential for driving success across your organization. I recommend taking a look at this article touching on the history of agile and how it’s been applied in various industries as a starting point.
But don’t stop there. Scaling agile requires continuous learning and understanding of its principles and best practices. Learn how other organizations successfully implemented agile across their company.
- What were some challenges they faced?
- How did they overcome those challenges?
- What elements helped them scale agile successfully?
If you’re looking for agile organizations that are getting it “right,” Amazon is a great example. However, understand that Amazon was BUILT as an agile company. They didn’t start as a traditional project management organization and shift to an agile organization, but instead embraced agile ways of delivery from the beginning and built the world’s largest e-commerce company, benefiting greatly from it, and hiring agile leaders and talent that fits their model. Traditional, legacy enterprises now fear Amazon may take a leap into their space. And, because of how Bezos built Amazon, to be nimble and pivot to the market, it’s increasingly possible. Ultimately, an agile leader should take the opportunity to learn from Amazon’s success and figure out how to emulate within their organization.
It’s also a good idea to look at companies that struggled with scaling agile because there are incredible learning opportunities here, as well. Some organizations start out on a journey and hit obstacles they cannot overcome and the transformation stalls. Others are set up so that they can handle the challenges and build from there. Essentially, organizations must have tangible goals and objectives to provide guardrails for their transformation. Without these in place, organizations have no idea if agile is working or not. Try to learn where they went wrong, so you can avoid similar setbacks in your agile transformation.
Ultimately, as a leader, you should understand the why behind everything you’re doing as it pertains agile. Don’t just do agile to say you’re doing it. Agile will fail with this mentality. Do agile with a purpose. That way, you’re able to develop the problem-solving skills necessary to empower team members in the face of any challenge, rather than forcing them to follow traditional processes.
2. Practicing Agile Thinking
Agile leadership moves away from the command-and-control leadership associated with traditional management. The successful agile leader doesn’t instantly try to solve a problem or issue. They take the time to think about solutions, glean input from their peers and the team, and help provide a path forward that aligns to the organization’s goals and objectives.
Moving to an agile mindset is a common pain point that many managers face. It’s natural for management to want to tighten the reigns in the event of a crisis, but this is contrary to agile’s philosophy. In order to practice agile thinking, managers must understand that challenges and uncertainty often lead to incredible breakthroughs. They push team members to come up with innovative solutions, but those solutions wouldn’t be possible without autonomy among those teams. Leaders unable to practice this manner of thinking face a greater likelihood of failure while scaling agile across their organization.
Now that we’ve looked at the importance of an agile mindset, let’s review some of the key elements. Managers who solve problems with an agile mindset are more likely to:
- Help the value stream breakdown large features and stories for more predictable delivery.
- Innovate using customer feedback and market awareness.
- Understand how their work and the team’s work aligns to the overall business goals and objectives.
- Pivot on a plan to make better decisions, rather than sticking to plan that doesn’t have the desired outcomes.
Moreover, an agile mindset places more value in outcomes rather than outputs. This means that employees and management should focus more on what’s been achieved through value delivered. Time and people are fixed. Use wisely to provide customer-value not products that will sit on the shelf and gather dust.
Areas to Improve: Recap
In today’s competitive market space, organizations must incorporate agile throughout the enterprise. As an agile leader, the first step is to understand agility and know how to incorporate agile principles in the workplace. Ultimately, leaders can make or break an agile transformation. By accepting the agile leader role, you’re showing commitment to change, and your workforce will notice. Continue to educate yourself and encourage others to do so, as well.
Stay tuned for our next blog, as we discuss two additional improvement areas needed to be a successful agile leader.
If you want to learn more about agile and how to seamlessly scale it across your organization, download our eBook on agile leadership.
Continue reading part two of this series, Agile Leaders: How to Better Help Your Organization Scale Agile, for two additional areas agile leaders can improve and focus to help their organization scale agile.