Kevin Cool professional photo

Kevin Cool

Director Consulting Expert

Whether characterized on tv or in our own experiences in the workplace, more often than not, we’ve all seen the depiction of the quintessential boss…stoic, demanding, measuring…resulting in the tattered employee…taking orders from the top down with little to no authority to step outside the box of specific duties they are hired to carry out. This makes for good tv, but in today’s workplace strong armed management styles are a clear recipe for failure.

The world of business and management culture has changed significantly since the times of yore and organizations today that fail to recognize this shift and react accordingly will reap the consequences of such thinking. It’s not too late to right the ship, but doing so starts with coming to terms with the new reality of the role of management in leading true organizational change.

Business agility is the imperative  

At the turn of this century, we began to experience a fundamental shift towards the rapid hunger for value in quicker succession. This shift continues today and is driven - for the most part - by technology and knowledge workers. In 2001, a group of forward thinkers created the Agile Manifesto which puts customer value first and empowers knowledge workers to be technological thought leaders. Agile methods like Scrum were defined and gained momentum across a broad audience of business and technology executives.  

What these methods created was an entrepreneurial network without hierarchy. The organizational structure of yesteryear was reimagined and transitioned to an agile network built on role accountability. By design, this network favors long-running, cross-functional teams over managing individual workers. 

Since Scrum is the most commonly adopted underlying framework (even at scale) we’ll focus on this method.   In Scrum the roles of these agile teams are simply defined as:

  • The product owner does the right thing
  • The team members: do the thing right
  • The Scrum master teaches the team and organization about their focus on the thing and keeps others from disrupting the process

And that’s all the role clarity needed. Any role on the team holds the other role accountable with no one role holding dominion over the other. When given the space to do this correctly, Scrum teams succeed in iteratively creating and releasing business value so it can be realized more quickly. Leaders of the old guard management style more often than not reject this new way of thinking, but this shift is vital to organizational success and we think it’s time to get uncomfortable. Let’s take a closer look.

The management challenge

The structure of true agile teams leaves no room for the old management hierarchy – and in large part, organizations that continue to operate under the old management structure do so because they simply don’t understand how true business agility works. While the old way to manage focuses on counting metrics and measuring productivity, the new agile methodology gives individual teams the power and authority to recognize a process, execute and deliver based on the best method to produce needed results effectively and efficiently. For management to concede this authority can be difficult but is imperative for organizations to realize true transformative results.

Leadership pivot | transactional manager to transformational leader

From a management standpoint in this new world there should be a single imperative - organizational alignment on business agility. Scrum creates alignment at the team level and even gives us the Scrum Master role to educate the organization within their sphere of knowledge and influence. Management might still exist - and to the extent that it does, it needs to align with the method of true Scrum teams. Moreover, it needs to be the accelerator for that alignment up the chain of command.

Managers in agile organizations choosing the method leveraging Scrum must strive to become leaders in transformation and hold themselves accountable to learning real Scrum. They must shift their focus from measuring points and velocity to supporting their Scrum team’s needs to meet their goals and set them up for future success. This management transition can be difficult in some business cultures, but it’s a necessary one for those who aim to remain relevant and competitive in both business success and workforce satisfaction. Following are some steps for managers to consider as they start their pivot to true transformational leadership.

Steps for a transformational leadership pivot:

  1. Take the necessary time to read the Scrum Guide and seek to truly understand the method first.
  2. If you are hiring Scrum Masters, go for experienced ones (having method “mastery”) with a certification. Then have them report to an HR manager, other than yourself, to avoid disempowering them.
  3. Set up time with your Scrum Master(s) to better understand the needs of the Scrum teams.
  4. Once you understand true Scrum, be an agent of change by recognizing what is and - more importantly - is not defined by the framework.
  5. Encourage teams by applauding their successful completion of Sprint goals - not the number of points completed
  6. Put your trust in teams and give them the space to succeed uninterrupted.
  7. Manage up and educate - as the agent of change. Understand that the organization now doesn’t have your level of knowledge of how real Scrum supports business agility.
  8. Create your own set of change metrics based on transformational outcomes and hold yourself accountable to them while socializing them with your leadership.

Twenty years since the publication of the Agile Manifesto, business agility and transformational leadership are not optional.  The above steps are the minimum that leadership and management can take to ensure the faster flow of value to customers and, therefore, your organization. Leadership doesn’t have to be viewed as legacy management - continued relevance and success of leaders comes with behaviors rooted in transformation.

To learn more about how CGI helps clients realize true business agility or to connect with an agile expert, visit

About this author

Kevin Cool professional photo

Kevin Cool

Director Consulting Expert

Kevin has a passion in helping organizations pivot and recognize the benefits in modern transformational change. As part of lean DevOps organizations, he also embraced the next wave of what has become possible with continuous integration and delivery. Kevin has also maintained a keen interest ...