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Become the Agile Leader Your Organization Needs

Published By Emily Peterson

Become the Agile Leader Your Organization Needs

Agile leadership, also known as servant leadership, is one of the most important shifts needed for an organization to successfully scale agile. For some organizations, this change comes easily with the implementation of agile, but for others, the change from top-down command and control to one of empowerment is difficult. It’s not as simple as implementing a new way of completing work. As the agile leader, it’s your job to empower the various teams within your organization and remove impediments keeping the team from delivering value. By empowering the team and individuals, leaders often find their employees are happier and provide more value to the organization.

In this post, we’ll look at the various elements agile leaders need in order to successfully scale agile across their organizations. First, let’s look at the role leadership plays in scaling agile and why agile leadership is an essential component of organizational agility.

Your Role as the Agile Leader

Scaling agile throughout the enterprise directly correlates to opportunities for better market share, position and dominance. And, this shift often increases morale throughout the organization, as people feel more connected to the work delivered.

Still a skeptic? Successful companies like Netflix and Spotify deliver value to their customers with an agile mindset as their backdrop. Companies like Amazon and USAA have integrated agile into their existing business models and benefitted tremendously. It’s no coincidence that many of the top business leaders around the world endorse agile methods and the associated benefits.

Organizations that are adaptive, innovative, and capable of keeping up with consumer expectations in a dynamic global economy are in a position to beat both new, start-up organizations and legacy enterprises. In order to be successful as a manager in an agile organization, you must embrace this new way of leadership.

According to studies conducted by the Harvard Business Review, scaling agile across an entire organization is beneficial to the overall company value. But there’s a caveat. Businesses who scale too quickly or try to scale aggressively, without a clear goal in mind, are more likely to fail. That’s because there’s “no one-size-fits-all approach” to agile. Not every department benefits from going all-in with agile. At the very least, organizations need to understand agile to its fullest and then determine the parts or pieces of agile to implement first. It’s the job of the agile leader to recognize this when scaling agile across the organization.

In other words, agile leadership’s primary objective is to create cohesion between agile-driven teams and non-agile teams to ensure communication across all parts of the organization. Agile leaders must understand and see impediments that will hinder the release of value and work hard to remove those impediments and help the team prioritize and deliver the highest value work first.

Become the Agile Leader your Organization Needs eBook

What Makes a Good Agile Leader?

Now that we’ve looked at the role leadership plays when scaling agile across the organization, let’s examine the qualities needed for a successful agile leader. While there are a number of traits that a successful agile leader should have, two of the most important are flexibility and adaptability. Agile ways of working move from the traditional hierarchical roles between teams and managers to a flatter organization. As such, agile leaders must move from traditional command-and-control to providing a support system for the employees reporting into him or her.

Instead of determining how work is done, agile leaders should adopt the role of a “servant leader” that empowers teams to succeed. This leader must put the needs of the employees first and help develop talent, allowing people to do their best work. At its core, servant leaders serve the people and foster team autonomy to deliver meaningful work. This is in direct contrast to the traditional managerial approach that gives leaders the role of commander, rather than facilitator.

Team autonomy is core to agile. Team members need their agile leader to provide strategic direction and priority to then allow them to deliver the highest value work first. With leadership’s guidance, team members provide input on:

  • The prioritization of tasks within the feature and/or story;
  • How to mitigate bottlenecks and impediments; and
  • How work is delivered.

But this will not happen if leaders micromanage their teams. This is why it’s important for agile leaders to understand their role within an agile organization. Rather than providing specific directions and tasks, an agile leader’s primary role is monitoring progress and exploring ways to help teams succeed. Agile leaders must avoid managing team members directly and instead approach situations as a learning opportunity for both themselves and the team member(s).

What Do Agile Leaders Do?

By now, you already know that agile leaders are responsible for empowering teams to work independently, while providing strategic direction. But what does this actually look like in action?

Generally speaking, agile leaders are expected to focus on three primary objectives:

  • To create an environment where learning and experimentation are encouraged and celebrated;
  • To build an organization that facilities teamwork and cooperation with all team members, across all levels of an organization; and
  • To design an organizational structure that prioritizes the previous two objectives.

The agile leader plays the role of coach and architect. They help create a workplace culture of sharing and improvement and build the framework to support. All three of these objectives are required in order to scale agile across an organization. When these three objectives are embraced by leadership, teams have the support and systems needed to maximize creativity and innovation in a way that helps them succeed in today’s professional landscape.

Building an Agile Organization That Thrives

Effective agile leadership is about creating a workplace philosophy that can be tailored to fit the needs of all departments within a company. Even non-agile teams within the organization benefit from an agile leader, by receiving strategic direction and empowerment to deliver value.

In this post, we looked at what makes a good agile leader. Stay tuned for our next blog in this series, where we’ll discuss actionable steps you can take to become a successful leader within your organization.

Want to learn more? Download our eBook on Agile leadership to learn more about management’s role in creating an agile-driven organization.

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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.