The ABCs of Agile Leadership

What are the 3 things a CEO needs to know to support his agile teams?  Let’s talk about the ABCs of agile leadership: Alignment - The Agile CEO enables alignment of the organization’s capacity to strategic goals.  Step one is to create and communicate the strategic vision and goals.  Step 2 is defining what success will look like when the vision and goals have been realized.  Step 3 is establishing and tracking a few meaningful metrics that will provide insight to progress towards accomplishment of the vision and goals.  Alignment focuses the agile team’s energy on what is most important to the organization.

Benefits- The Agile CEO makes clear what he expects from Agility, that is, what difference being agile will mean.  For example, if the ability to go faster is an expectation of being Agile, it is important for the CEO to explain the double-edged sword of improved quality in order to stay the agile course.  On one edge of the sword, many teams initially experience a decrease in throughput when they focus on embedding quality into their iterations.  The increased attention to catching defects early sometimes means there is more time spent upstream fixing things on their way to “done” instead of downstream after the features have been put into production.  While the team may appear to be going slower, the other edge of the sword is less distraction from production defects.  The later a defect is caught, the larger the level of effort to make the fix.  When viewed holistically, the team is actually going faster and throughput increases.  Keeping the benefits in mind underscores the intent of the agile practices.  The idea is to be agile, rather than to just “do” agile.

Costs - The CEO invests the organization’s time and money in learning how to become agile.  Agility requires disciplined practice over time to realize long-term results.  Team members may need training and coaching to learn new terminology, techniques, and practices.  In addition, changed responsibilities and emphasis may require additional investment in staffing to fully realize the benefit of new roles.  An understanding of the costs and investments required, and communication of the importance of the investment, communicates to the teams the CEO’s commitment to the change required to become agile.