The Lack of Agile Leadership Qualities — Making Your Scrum Work #15

TL; DR: The Lack of Agile Leadership Qualities — When Change Agents Don’t Act as Role Models

There are plenty of failure possibilities with Scrum. Given that Scrum is a framework with a reasonable yet short “manual,” this effect should not surprise anyone. When Scrum becomes an element of an agile transformation, a lack of agile leadership qualities on the incumbents’ side may impede its overall progress significantly despite the best efforts of all other change agents.

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The Lack of Agile Leadership Qualities — Making Your Scrum Work #15 — Berlin Product People GmbH

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Agile Leadership According to the Scrum Guide

There is little reference to agile leadership qualities or management in the Scrum Guide 2020:

  • Page 3: Scrum makes visible the relative efficacy of current management, environment, and work techniques, so that improvements can be made.
  • Page 4: If any aspects of a process deviate outside acceptable limits or if the resulting product is unacceptable, the process being applied or the materials being produced must be adjusted.
  • Page 4: Adaptation becomes more difficult when the people involved are not empowered or self-managing.
  • Page 4: The decisions that are made, the steps taken, and the way Scrum is used should reinforce these values, not diminish or undermine them.

Source: Scrum Guide 2020. (The aggregation is taken from the Scrum Guide 2020 Reordered on leadership and management.)

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Will “Agile” Turn out to Be Fad Shortly and Disappear again?

Let us point at the obvious: If you are invested heavily in the idea that a manager is the go-to person to solve issues and problems of all kinds. If you believe that Taylorism—the management cast analyzes problems and makes decisions while the worker cast does the work as instructed—may have had some flaws. However, in the end, Taylorism worked out well for society, then becoming “agile” challenges your position and many of your previous investments in networks and education. Depending on the industry, this issue may lead to second thoughts on the middle management side when the C-level calls for an agile transformation.

The Problem: Parts of the leadership—particularly the middle management—pay lip service at best to the idea of becoming an agile organization. Besides business cards, the business analysts are now Product Owners, not much has changed, except for the inevitable “agile playbook” created by a well-reputed consultancy that the lower ranks are asked to “roll out.”

The Consequences: Remember that probably about 10 % of the member of a social group are change agents, 5-10% are refuseniks pushing back, and 80 % typically comprise the silent majority joining when the dices have fallen. With a lot at stake for management folks, why not wait and see? Maybe, it goes away in a few months?

Leadership is about being the first to explore unknown territory at personal risk, thus being a role model. This wait-and-see approach of the leadership will “earn” support from significant parts of the organization: If the leader is not entirely in, why should I be? And now, everything is either stalling or done by half-hearted measures.

The Solution: Awaken the Alexander the Great in you and be a leader. Show support for the massive task at hand by being present and support the effort in every way possible, for example, by:

  • Communicating the goals time and again by authoring a blog, a newsletter, creating a podcast,
  • Practicing Gemba walks,
  • Attending events, meetups, and communities of practice makes everyone understand that Agile is here to stay. (The Sprint Review is an excellent opportunity, for example.)
  • Pointing at successes & failures, establishing a failure culture,
  • Empower the teams to solve customer problems autonomously by defining guide-line,
  • Include team members in the hiring process,
  • Initiate the abandonment of individual incentives and bonuses.

Spoiler alert: Becoming “agile” is not for everyone. It is a myth that everyone in an established organization is whole-heartedly embracing the ideas of self-management and delegating decision power to the lower ranks—which applies to both managers and workers. Ask Zappos.

Lack of Agile Leadership Qualities — Conclusion

Shouldn’t it be a low-brainer that solving complex adaptive problems of the 21st century does not work by applying methods from the 1890ies? Apparently, it is not. The Manifesto for Agile Software Development has been instrumental in addressing the systemic issues resulting from clinging to Taylorism that numerous organizations still face today. Nevertheless, the overall progress among organizations has been mediocre at best. In part, this can be attributed to the change aversion of established players who do well in today’s systems. However, if your commitment to becoming an agile organization is serious, you will need to act upon this challenge.

How is your organization progressing on its path to becoming a learning and agile organization? Are you experiencing a lack of agile leadership qualities? Please share them with us in the comments.

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Tags: Agile, agile leadership, Anti-Patterns, Scrum Anti-Patterns