Building Out the Vision (Part 2 of the Agile Leadership Engagement Series)

If you are a director, senior manager or manager in an Agile organization, this post is for you. With an organizational vision in place, you will be expected to plan and build the teams and systems necessary to deliver on that vision. You are the conduit between vision and implementation…not an agile leadership engagement series planningeasy task!

The challenge at this level of leadership is balancing the expectations of senior leadership with the qualities of team self-organization, self-responsibility and autonomy. Some days it will feel as if you are in the middle of a hurricane with senior leaders swirling above you and fast-moving agile teams below. All of this in addition to your responsibilities of career and performance management for your people.

There are many topics to be covered within this area of leadership, far more than can be covered in a blog post. I’ll hit just a few themes I find are important in bringing some clarity to your leadership journey and beginning to align your leadership approach with agile values and principles.

Assess high-level feasibility. Leaders at this level begin to make decisions on what will be needed to build out the vision. Do we have the necessary people and skills? Do we have the technical capabilities to bring the vision to life? Can our existing architecture support this vision? It’s important to know what you are capable of today and what will be necessary for the future. These answers will be beneficial when we discuss partnering between senior leadership and product teams in part nine of this series.

Invest, sustain, sunset‚Ķprioritize. If you have a finite budget to work with, some tough choices will need to be made. Marty Cagan calls this “portfolio grooming.” You will need to decide if any of your existing products should remain in a state of investment (new features are being introduced), sustain (only maintenance and upgrades), or sunset (product will be shut down).

If your company is currently organized around projects instead of products, the same concept will hold true. It is tempting to keep a long list of active projects but don’t allow the appearance of busyness to replace delivering frequent value. Tough but necessary decisions must be made.

Build dedicated teams. When designing your agile teams resist the urge to assign people to multiple teams. I have written about this in the past and call it the “Curse of Allocation.” In my experience, teams with passion and strength are composed of people dedicated to their team and product.

Hire well. Bringing the right people to a team is the most important aspect of your job. The cost of hiring people is expensive and that price is magnified over and over when you hire the wrong person. It only takes one toxic team member to cripple what would be an otherwise incredible team. Hire based on the values required to be on a collaborative agile team.

Consider operations and infrastructure. With multiple agile teams flying around proper consideration must be made for the people who support these teams. Gone are the days of lengthy project plans with plenty of time for operations and infrastructure to prepare for a release. Things will begin to move pretty fast so the ratio of teams to support people should be in alignment.


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