Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Top Management Role in Agile Journey

Senior management needs to focus more on agile philosophy, principles, and management discipline.

Agile goes beyond a buzzwordAt the strategic level, Agile is a mindset, philosophy, and a set of principles to run today’s digital organization; at the tactical level, Agile is a software management methodology to deliver products/service. But what is an appropriate role for top management to play in Agile journey? Why do some of these senior managers want to implement agile / scrum but do not even bother to learn sufficiently enough about it? As Agile development teams working at project delivery, what would you really like senior managers to start doing, keep doing and stop doing? If they cannot or will not learn about "agile / scrum," can you identify the behavior changes needed to reap the benefits of an agile development organization?



Senior management needs to focus more on WHY & WHAT. Influencing the mindset, behavior of groups, teams and departments are actually the jobs of senior management. Senior managers play a significant role in shaping the agile culture - the collective mindsets and behaviors are critical for top management. Consider multiple levels and multiple timeframes. How will Agile support the organization's strategic goals? Does it address current tactical needs as well as the capacity you're trying to build, and differentiated business capability to compete for the long run? Do you understand what the organizations are trying to accomplish? If not, advocating for major change is unlikely to succeed. But the #1 STOP is attempting to fix development teams or even trying to control how development teams pursue their goals. Define the needs and set the constraints (resources) but stay out of deciding how. Even implicit support for one approach over another inhibits the team's ability to make choices about how to do their work.


Identifying gaps and resolving conflicts via "Agile Lenses": There are some good ways for a sensible senior manager to address the existing organizational pain points via “Agile lenses.” Top management needs to focus on creating the synergy of teams, and improving effectiveness - doing the right things, and solving the right business problems before doing them right. It could have potential conflicts between how senior leadership perceive Agile and how the development team understands it because they are often in the different position to look at the things from different angles. The team member is more efficiency driven or detail oriented, and the senior team is more strategic driven and principle focused. In fact, the problem the teams see may not be the problem top management is trying to solve...and may not be the most important one. For example, the goals for top management might be to ensure that there is a consistent way for the business to measure the efficacy of communication amongst and between teams. Consistency could be more important to the organization than efficiency; if that's the case, the most efficient solution for two teams may not be the right one. Therefore, mutual understanding and two-way communication are important to build trust.


Ask top management what they think about Agile's promise of Visibility. If they say something like "Finally, I'll be able to see and understand what's going on so that I can adjust my goals, plans and obligations accordingly," then they already understand Agile and may not need additional information. Most of the time people are very quick and eager to point out all the things that are wrong or suboptimal around them. Agile offers a solution to those things. Before agile is "installed," the leaders in the organization need to confront the question, "How will I change to see this succeed?" Otherwise, the same oddities that exist from their established decision making will plague whatever they had hoped to see come from Agile. Listen as well as your advocate before try to "guide," or "keep on track." - be mindful that your planned approach to communication doesn't turn into manipulation.


"Agile" word is not a noun but an adjective. You can have the agile philosophy, agile principle, agile practices agile methods, agile development or agile management. Senior management needs to focus more on agile philosophy, principles, and management disciplines, cultivating the habit of inquiring and adapting, not predicting, controlling or manipulating, and then Agile can scale up more effortlessly, shift from “doing Agile” to being agile in running a digital organization.

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