The principles of the Agile Manifesto are:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
These principles are as valuable and applicable as ever.
So why is there a need for a second Agile Manifesto?
To explain this, I would like to give a definition of what agile is (in my eyes) – and what it is not.
You often hear it defined as: “dynamic”. Agile is “reacting dynamically to the challenges of the global world”.
You can also find definitions of this kind: “Agile is self-governance of teams”, implying that teams should have the autonomy to completely decide on their own on all details and processes of their work.
In my opinion, both of these very common definitions do not fully explain what agile is all about; what lies at the heart of the agile concept.
I like to define agile as “a learning process based on short feedback loops”.
This learning process can consist of lean management, scrum or Kanban frameworks, and this indeed will lead to more dynamic reactions in the face of challenges and to self-governance, but these are effects of the agile practice, not its essence.
This is what I distilled as the essence:
The learning process itself is located at the pinnacle of the pyramid of power, instead of a certain person or group of people.
Accordingly, agile leadership is not a kind of hierarchical order or framework intended to make people work in a defined way – or to control them.
Agile leadership is a communication process which is based on insight and understanding.
Agile leadership is what follows out of the necessity to manage more than one agile team and to manage the complex organisation of a corporation.
To only manage those structures would not be enough since that would mean that the enterprise infrastructure just reacts to the teams’ impulses and administers the teams.
To make agile work, profound leadership is needed in order to enable coordination, support, guidance and overview.
But this leadership is not the classic top-down reign-on-rules which it used to be in past times of industrial work.
Instead, it is a new, innovative way of interaction which has a different foundation and new rules of communication.
The methodic foundations of Agile Leadership are the Agile Success Factors: transparency, competence, relationship and focus.
Implementing them in your enterprise and applying them in your daily business can guarantee success with the agile method.
If they come along with a certain mindset:
This mindset is a cultural matter.
It comes along with responsibility – and enables strong leadership.
People will feel if you have it – and if you live it.
If so, they will trust you and pursue the quest as a team towards completion of the respective project.
If not, there simply is no guarantee that you can convince them to follow your directions.
So, this mindset is my proposal for a Manifesto on Agile Leadership:
- Speak the truth whenever you communicate. If you cannot be true in your words, say nothing. Always complete what you have committed yourself to.
- Give unconditional friendliness, respect and fairness to EVERYONE in the industry. Realise that the emotional stability of a leader is his true strength.
- Be willing to let go of personal advantages if necessary. A leader is only reliable if he can put his personal needs lower than the good of the people he leads.
The traditional approach to leadership often does not fit to those values very well.
In today’s complex working environment, the person most apt to lead the way to master a problem at a certain point in a complex project changes accordingly. The expert – or at least the one who is best informed – should at some point take leadership.
Agile leaders in companies today are often part of service units or support centres; they often come from networking centres or belong to detached executive departments besides the line.
When we succeed in helping employees in those positions realise their responsibilities and their leading role in communication and decisions, then we are able to create new ways of collaboration.
They will then genuinely serve the overall goals, enabling people to be fruitful as well as solution-oriented and generate good results and a positive working atmosphere for the benefit of everyone.
About the author
Dr Barbara Schiller is a Senior Agile Coach and Scrum Master.
She has worked in the Health Insurance sector as well as the Automotive and MedTech industries.
Dr Schiller studied Social Science with a focus on System Theory (Luhmann) and acquired a profound additional education in Systemic Coaching and Organisational Development.
Based on this background, she developed a concept of Agile Leadership which can be regarded as a full programme on agile practices to transform a company and to guide it into agility.
This programme is successfully tested with customers who regard it as a very valuable tool for evaluating their agile setup and activities.
The unique value of this programme is the ability to analyse and rate an enterprise on its level of Agility based on 4 Agile Key Success Factors.
These Key Success Factors focus on the role of Management and Leadership within the company and the role of its infrastructure and service functions.
As a result, customers are provided with OKRs to measure the status of their enterprise – not only by watching the output of agile teams but also by measuring the ability of the whole company to align itself, to react swiftly to changes and to steer motivation and relationships – and last but not least to communicate the entire process effectively all the way through.