Going Agile? 5 Must Ask Questions for Leaders

So your organization is making the move to Agile. It may have started with a “I’ve heard about this Agile stuff and we are going to do it!” from someone in leadership. Maybe its the staff who will go to leadership and say ” We want to do Agile!”  Or it starts as a grass-roots effort from a group or department without leadership knowing about it initially. That never happens…does it?

Regardless of where the change initiative originates, many believe leadership buy-in or support is important for a successful transformation. In the latest VersionOne State of Agile Survey from 2011, 33% of the respondents say “Loss of management control” (second highest) and 32% say “Management opposition” (3rd highest) as their greatest concerns about adopting Agile.

While initial leadership buy-in is helpful (and makes things easier), what is more important, in my opinion, is if leaders really understand what their role will be during and after a transformation to Agile. Do they understand how they may need to change as well?

So, when undertaking a transformation to Agile, leaders at all levels should ask themselves the following 5 questions:

Am I fully aware and supportive of the cultural changes my organization will undertake? A successful Agile transformation can be the catalyst for the elusive culture change you are looking for. While culture change has certainly happened without Agile, Agile can provide the framework for relationships, constraints, transparency, and process for your people to become re-engaged and feel re-energized and valued. But getting there will be hard and possibly unsettling for some of your people. You will need to be supportive and encouraging throughout the journey and you must have unrelenting commitment during the times when things get rough.

Am I prepared to have an engaged workforce? Survey after survey shows how disengaged today’s workers are. While I’m not saying Agile is the silver bullet and tomorrow your people will magically come to work with a bounce in their step…but what if they did? Would you be ready? Agile teams (or any team) want to do cool stuff and feel like they are making a difference. Your workforce will be reaching out for an amazing vision for why they should come to work everyday.

Am I ready to make necessary, but possibly uncomfortable, changes? Moving to full business or enterprise agilty will expose dysfunction within the organization – quickly. Bad cultural DNA may be exposed and silos may need to be removed. Are you prepared?

Am I willing to trust my product owners and teams completely? This will require letting go of day-to-day product decisions. If you are accustomed to being the decision-maker and are not the product owner, moving to Agile will mean someone else will be calling the shots for the product. Focus instead on being an overwhelming source of encouragement for today and creating a compelling vision for the future.

Am I willing to adapt my leadership style if necessary? Agile teams should generally be self-guided and will now respond differently to traditional leadership styles. They will naturally follow a visionary leader while they may struggle with command-and-control leaders. Create Agile Leadership Principles for yourself and your fellow leaders and hold each other accountable. Use them to hire the right people with the right cultural mindset you are looking for. Be open and ask for feedback.

Are there other questions out there? What questions would you have your leaders ask of themselves?


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “Going Agile? 5 Must Ask Questions for Leaders

  1. Good stuff Len. We are trying a POC in the next few months and I will absolutely be meeting with the management team to setup leadership principles.


  2. Am I willing to invest the necessary time and money in proper training? In my experience, bringing agile into an organization has significant growing pains. Those pains and risks can be mitigated by three main methods: first, you can hire outside consultants to provide training, coaching, and fill in as ScrumMasters as you adopt the process (you’ll want to eventually phase them out). Second, you can invest heavily in training your own people through experienced trainers and then make sure you have the right people in the right places for those trainings. Third, you can hire new people full-time who have agile experience to fill in key slots on your teams. Any of these three methods can require a significant investment and this should be considered prior to adopting agile practices.

  3. As you mention in the fifth item, having managers adapting their style of leading is crucial for Agile or Lean to become successful. It’s not easy though, and agile coaching can help by giving feedback to both managers and teams, and helping them to find better ways to collaborate.

    Being an example helps to get more out of any agile implementation. If you clearly show as a manager that you trust your people, knowing that they have the skills to develop and deliver working software, and act as a servant leader helping them to solve any impediment the team considers important, then the chances of successful agile adoption are much higher. Doing thing tells more then telling them!

    Any manager can do this, but it may some time to learn the skills, or become better in using them. Just start doing it, ask for feedback frequently: Learning by doing.