ALI Talk: Agile Leadership: Moving from Efficiency to Effectiveness

At the ALI Conference on  April 26th next, I’ll be presenting some of the latest ideas around agile leadership, with some personal experiences from my work supporting senior leadership teams transforming to agile:

The majority of agile implementations either fail completely, or deliver a fraction of their promise. Why so?

Most organisations and their leadership teams still follow prescriptive, efficiency based management paradigms, developed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in a simpler, slower moving, more predictable world. Modern business, and software development in particular, must now deal with a level of complexity which refuses to play nice with traditional management approaches. Todays product development organisations are more akin to complex adaptive systems, which, by definition, implies the answer cannot be “figured out” in advance. No amount of analysis, design or planning our projects will allow us predict how they will unfold, what they will, or should, deliver or the value they will create.

So if we can’t predict how the future will unfold, how can we as leaders create plans, assign responsibilities, measure performance, make commitments to stakeholders?

Agile Leadership is about building resilient organisations – organisations that can adjust structure and reconfigure resources dynamically based on emerging challenges. Such organisations cannot be built on static, power based hierarchies. Information and decision-making authority must be deployed dynamically to where it is needed at a point in time.

Building such an organisation requires some fundamental changes to our leadership approach. In this short talk I’ll discuss some of the new priorities for leaders such as:

•The ability to set strategic direction or intent (what and why), while not committing to detailed plans (how)

•Leveraging the power of self-organisation by nurturing a shared common purpose, distributing power and developing leadership at all levels (“Eyes on, Hands off”)

•Building professional competence and a common doctrine across team members, resulting in mutual confidence and trust in others, in turn leading to speed and effectiveness.

•Aligning personal, team and organisational incentives thereby avoiding conflicts and even subversion of intent.

While only the tip of the iceberg in terms of agile leadership, these topics give a feel for the challenges and fundamental changes in approach leaders face in adopting agile. A true transformation requires knowledgable, persistent leadership, training and coaching at all levels of the organisation.

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