emerging technologies logo

Technology Innovation Practice

Center of Excellence

Being a good leader is hard; Being a bad leader is expensive.

The more organizations look to agile and lean practices to help them accelerate value delivery, the more they need good leaders to work with an agile and lean mindset to clear the way for the team to accomplish astonishing results.

Unfortunately, this is not a simple task.

Most of today’s IT leaders applied traditional software and product development approaches that helped them to grow their careers and ascend to more senior technology roles. However, these traditional approaches no longer serve today’s complex and fast-paced markets.

In traditional development, the cycle time from a good idea to software completion is so long and complicated, it is hard to realize where the real problems lie. When agile concepts are applied in an organization the pain of a bad system and culture, or improper management is apparent way more often.

How agile leadership methods offer a remedy

Agile methods, prescribe small, self-managing teams where leaders mainly support and facilitate. Lean views leadership as the foundation of a well-functioning team and that only management can change the system.

This can seem conflicting and confusing―especially when this is all new. However, don’t confuse empowered, self-managing teams with good management. These two things go hand in glove.

As a leader and manager caught in the middle of the old ways and new approaches, it’s not always self-evident what to do or how to do it. The State of Agile report from Digital.ai cites that three of the top challenges to agile adoption are organizational culture, resistance to change, and lack of skills and experience with agile.

In order for a culture to emerge that supports delivering astonishing results, leaders must be role models—modeling the very habits and behaviors aligned with the Agile Manifesto. A leader must be engaged and know what to do.

3 steps leaders can take to implement agile and lead

  1. First, recognize that you are going to need to learn new habits.
    If you want different results, you have to do things differently. Recognize that you’ll need help learning new ways of doing things. Get help from a coach or an experienced business consultant if you can and look to other colleagues for feedback. Openly seeking feedback on your behavior and ensuring that it supports the new culture is vital.
    Ask your peers. Ask your direct reports. Ask their direct reports:

    • As a leader are you creating a culture that safely allows for experimentation?
    • Have you trained and empowered your middle managers to help their team members organize?
    • Have you motivated your team to in turn manage others in motivating ways?
  2. Second, create an environment that supports this new way of working and then use it yourself. Leaders establish, operationalize and sustain values, vision and environment by which their organizations thrive.
    How leaders go about creating a system or an environment that works is just as important as the system that leadership creates. Applying transparency, listening to the people in the organization, making strategic but small changes, preserving options, and making sure that there’s a feedback mechanism in place are key.
    Follow these steps as you begin creating your agile system:

    • Focus on outcomes and impacts
    • Be intentional
    • Take just enough time to prepare your path of transformation
    • Start with an agile core team that will guide, coach, monitor, respond to, and sustain the vision
    • Make the change that you seek visible and assess it by asking the people in the system what needs to be done to make that vision a reality
    • Work the backlog in short and fast cycles that deliver value to the organization and gather feedback to guide the next steps
    • Keep track of the impediments that the teams raise and remove them as quickly as possible
  3. Finally, build safety and trust. Change is everywhere: the market, our clients, technology, to name only a few. The people we surround ourselves with and the way we work together are the most important aspects of changing and innovating for a better tomorrow.
    Transparency, vision and giving others the freedom to work in a way that fosters innovation is a good start. Caring about the people that you’ve hired, creating a space where learning is desired, and organizing around values and a vision that unifies and motivates, goes even further. Leaders must know what motivates workers and align their values and the system to them. Teach and coach your leaders the skills they need to support this environment.
    As Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the father of the agile system, once said, “Everyone is already doing their best. The problems are with the system…only management can change the system.” If you want something different, do something different.

About this author

emerging technologies logo

Technology Innovation Practice

Center of Excellence

Accelerating innovation and change CGI serves as a mindful visionary to help you connect the dots (from end-to-end) and pursue strategic emerging technology investments that enable you to continuously innovate and realize value.