Agile Leader

Over the last two decades, agile shifted from software teams to organizations. We talk about different cultures, agile organization, agile leadership, agile HR, agile finance, all over business agility. Simply the ability to embrace agile values and principles at the organizational level and change the way organizations run their business. It’s a fundamental change that is more than just implementing some framework.

“Business agility creates an organization best able to serve its customer, no matter what the future brings.”

I found this definition fascinating. In today’s complex, fast-changing, and unpredictable world, agile organizations are good at responding to the nowadays challenges. Agile brings flexibility, allows you to respond to changes fast, learn through the iterations, inspect and adapt. In order to be successful, organizations need to serve its customer, no matter what the future brings. Fixed plans are failing as the business environment is not stable enough. All that matters is creativity and flexibility.

In my second English book published by Addison Wesley – The Agile Leader: Leveraging the Power of Influence I’m looking at organizational agility and focusing on the shift required from the leaders and organizations. Through practical exercises and assessments, you learn how to unleash your potential, become a better catalyst and community builder, sensibly apply transparency, improve functions from HR to finance, and guide entire organizations towards greater agility. Agility at this level is not about practices, nor frameworks. Though those are good at the beginning, as they are helpful in creating an environment with high transparency, autonomy, and collaboration, the real impact we need to create goes way beyond that. Creating a culture that supports innovations and creative solutions is a pre-requisite for real organizational change.

So how does agile start at the organizational level? You can say it starts with a management decision or training, but I would say it all starts with a dream. Is that dream strong enough to leverage the discomfort caused by changing the way we work? Is it strong enough for you? Or let me ask you this: If you won a lottery, would you be still going to work trying to make it happen? Or would you better give up and take a rest? And I’m not speaking about having a vacation to relax for a while, but is the vision important enough for you to hang around even if you don’t need to get paid? No change is smooth and agile brings a fundamental shift of values and culture, so you better have a strong reason for the change.

Being an agile leader is a journey. It always starts with you. You need to change first, the others will follow. Agile leaders need to have a vision that will motivate people to join their effort and work together to achieve it. They need to create a collaborative environment, with high trust, and transparency where the feedback is natural. They need to motivate people by giving them purpose, autonomy, and a learning environment.

Top 5 Books You Have To Read Building Agile Organization

People are always asking me what to read. I created the three lists recommending books ScrumMasters shall read, books Product Owners shall read, and books agile leaders shall read. And recently I got some great books from my friends, so I thought I will write one update page referring to them. This list is intended to help people on their agile journey who want to deepen their understanding of what Agile organizations are about and how leadership needs to change.

top 5 books Agile organization

#1: Johanna Rothman – Modern Management Made Easy

The first recommendation is a trilogy Modern Management Made Easy from Johanna Rothman. The books are full of stories and practical examples. Here are few quotes from the three books so you can choose which one is the most interesting for you.

1. Practical Ways to Manage Yourself is focusing on you as a leader. Modern management requires we first manage ourselves—and that might be the most challenging part of management.

“When we exercise our personal integrity, it’s true, we might lose our job or a specific role. However, even I have never immediately lost a job. Very few managers lose their jobs if they say, ‘No,’ to a management request that lacks integrity.”

2. Practical Ways to Lead and Serve (Manage) Others is looking on how to work with other people. Great managers create an environment where people can do their best work.

“Many first-line managers see themselves as the expert, as the sole source of knowledge for their group. You may have started as the expert. However, as soon as you become a manager, start moving out of that expert’s seat. You can’t be the expert for the team.”

3. and finally the Practical Ways to Lead an Innovative Organization are looking at organization as a whole. Learn to create an environment where people can innovate.

“Great managers solve culture problems. And, culture problems are big, messy, systemic problems. You’ll address something over here and something over there will break. You’ll never run out of problems to solve. Maintaining a culture of integrity might be the most challenging job a manager can do.”

All over, the three books bring a nice overview of modern management practices, are easy to read, and give practical examples of how to change your leadership style. Each book covers several myths which help you to reflect on your current practices and change the way you work.

#2: Michael Spayd, Michele Madore – Agile Transformation

Another book I recently got is Agile Transformation: Using the Integral Agile Transformation Framework™ to Think and Lead Differently. It’s looking at agile transformation

“Becoming a transformational leader challenges us to make room for our own deep passion for change, coming up against the personal limitations in us that prevent this change from occurring through us.”

In the world we live in, which is complex and unpredictable, we need to re-think how we are thinking about organizations, leadership, and transformation. How can you work with other leaders, what kind of leadership is required to successfully lead transformational change, and what is realistically required for agile transformation?

#3: Zuzi Sochova – Agile Leader

The third on the recommendation list is my new book The Agile Leader: Leveraging the Power of Influence. It continues where the Great ScrumMaster book finished and is focusing on how to change the organizations and leadership in the agile space. It will help you to unleash your agile leadership potential and guide your entire organization toward agility. It’s a great overview of concepts for managers, directors, executives, and entrepreneurs―anyone, regardless of position, who’s ready to take ownership, challenge the status quo, and become a true agile leader.

“Having a critical mass of agile leaders is the key factor to organizational success in the VUCA world. Supporting agile leadership and growing agile leaders is one of the most important tasks on your agile journey.”

#4: Heidi Helfand – Dynamic Reteaming

The fourth recommended book is looking at evolutions of teams. Dynamic Reteaming: The Art and Wisdom of Changing Teams got recently it’s second edition and it’s a great book for all people interested in the team dynamic.

“Whether you like it or not, your teams are going to change. People will join your team and people will leave your team. You can grow your organization with dynamic reteaming in mind so that you have a resilient and flexible structure, or you can adjust your existing organizations to enable dynamic reteaming.”

#5: 97 Things Every Scrum Practitioner Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts

Finally, there is a fifth recommendation for a very interesting book collected and edited by Gunther Verheyen. This book is a collection of short essays from 97 thought leaders (97 Things Every Scrum Practitioner Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts) who share their insights from their agile journey about transformation, product value delivery, collaboration, people, development practices, ScrumMastery, organizational design, and Scrum.

“Bring the agile values to the organizational level. Address the system in its whole complexity and turn it into a self-organizing network of great teams. At this stage, you can see your organization as a living organism. Being a ScrumMaster is a never-ending journey. The #ScrumMasterWay concept can guide them.”

Hierarchy

I recently posted a quote from a conference saying that “Removing hierarchy and cross-team dependencies made space for strong collaborative teams.” Interestingly, I got many comments and questions about it. So let’s talk about hierarchy and why we don’t need it in Agile space.

But before we dive deeper… What is the hierarchy? – using dictionary definition: “Noun – a system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority.”

Traditional Organizations Need Hierarchy

Organizations where employees are ‘ranked according to relative status or authority’ is what we inherited from the traditional organizational paradigm which is built on top of the belief that hierarchy is the key – every organization needs to have an org chart, we have to have a clear line of reporting and decision making. And I’m not saying it’s wrong, you can keep all the traditional practices like a career path, positions, performance reviews, KPIs, etc. however such organizational design is not what I’m interested in and has nothing to do with ‘being agile’. Traditional organizations might be still well functioning, applying some frameworks and ‘do agile’, but the mindset at the organizational level is just not there yet.

Agile Organizations Are Flat

What I’m interested in is applying an agile mindset at the organizational level. Help not only individuals to ‘be agile’, but the organization as well. Agile is fundamentally changing the way organizations operate. Agile organizations are built on a new paradigm. They have a team as the key building block and are forming collaborative, creative, and adaptive networks from them. In a team, we don’t have status, and we have no ranking either. All team members are peers, with no positional hierarchy and power. Indeed, you can gain respect from the other team members in a team, but you can also lose it if you don’t bring value to the people around you anymore. It’s flexible and dynamic. All you need is radical transparency, peer feedback, and honest culture with implicit trust. You might say it’s a lot, and I’m far from saying it’s easy. However, once you experience it, you never want back to the traditional world.

Who decides on the process? Teams. In a flat organization, they are not only self-organized, but self-managed (so they are responsible for the processes), self-designing (so they are designing teams), and self-governing (so they are setting overall direction). To get more insights on those terms, see how LeSS defines them. All over, you don’t need much more than what I already mentioned – transparency, feedback, and trust. If that’s too abstract, you can get inspired by Sociocracy 3.0. It will give you more ideas on how to get there.

Who set’s the goals and objectives? No one. They are co-created by the teams, reviewed through radical transparency, and inspected and adapted via frequent feedback to flexibly address the business challenges. At the end of the day, fixed goals are useless in the VUCA world. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In other words, we speak about the world which is not predictable anymore. The cascading goals neither unify nor motivate. The more decentralized and autonomous the organizations are, the higher need is there for a strong evolutionary purpose. Co-created and owned by all. Transparent. You can get inspired by Frederic Laloux’s work.

What about budgets? Who says we need to have a budget in the first place. Again, you don’t need much more than what I already mentioned – transparency, feedback, and trust. Make all the finances transparent, and use instant peer feedback to review it. If that is too radical, you can get inspired by Beyond Budgeting.

All over, I guess you got the pattern. In an agile flat organization, we don’t need most of the traditional practices. All we need is radical transparency, peer feedback, and honest culture with implicit trust. No one is saying that you have to turn your organization into a flat structure and an agile mindset. But if you want to do that, be ready to redesign the way you work entirely.

10 Most Common Mistakes of ScrumMaster

Great ScrumMasterBeing great ScrumMaster is a journey, where you have to learn a lot about Agile, Scrum, coaching, facilitation, change, business agility, technical practices, leadership… But all over it all starts with having the agile mindset. This time, I’m not focusing on who you need to be, but quite opposite what you should avoid, as one of the very common questions at the classes is what are the most common mistakes of ScrumMaster. So here is the list:

Being a Team Assistant

Taking care of the team, solve issues (impediments) for them, plan meetings… It’s easy to get there as it seems to be helpful. But only in the short term. Long-term, it will create unconfident people who rely on ScrumMaster and never take over responsibility and ownership. Instead, you shall show them they can solve most of their problems by themselves, and be a good coach, facilitator and servant leader.

Share ScrumMaster Role with Another Role

Such ScrumMasters have usually lack of focus. They don’t spend enough time observing, finding better ways for the team to become great, and are happy and done with the role once everything is ok. Instead of sharing ScrumMaster role with another role, have ScrumMaster full time, let them focus on how they can become great ScrumMasters and truly master the agility so it will help the entire organization. Give them space to invest more time to the other levels of the #ScrumMasterWay concept.

Team Only Focus

Speaking about #ScrumMasterWay concept, many ScrumMasters believe that their only role is to support their development team to be great. I mean this is fine, but it’s just a tiny part on the ScrumMaster journey. It’s like a kindergarten. You need to experience it. That’s where you learn and practice all State of Mind approaches, that’s where you get confidence in yourself as a leader and change agent. But even if you are super successful, it’s only changing at the team level. You need to go broader and follow the other steps of the #ScrumMasterWay model and change the entire organization into an agile organization.

Technical Expert

Being a technical expert is dangerous for ScrumMasters. They feel a strong need to advise people on what to do. If you know a better solution, it’s just easier to tell them, then help them to figure it out. Instead, ScrumMaster shall trust the team they are the experts and coach them so they become better.

Manage Meetings

ScrumMaster is neither manager of the Scrum meetings, nor responsible for scheduling them. Instead, ScrumMaster shall be a facilitator, who takes care about the form of the conversation, not the content.

Don’t Believe in Scrum

How many times you’ve seen ScrumMaster who is doubting about the core Scrum so much that no one is following them? You need to be sure it works, need to believe in it, need to be the biggest Agile enthusiast all around. Otherwise, you can’t make the others to follow.

Apply ‘Fake Scrum’

Sometimes ScrumMasters take Scrum as just a process, don’t search for deeper understanding. Just do it (Daily Scrum, backlog, ScrumMaster role, …) as Scrum says so. They don’t have the right mindset. Agile and Scrum is not about practices, it’s a different way of thinking. It’s about “being” not “doing”.

Waiting for Someone Else to Start the Change

ScrumMasters often wait for someone else to initiate a change. They are reluctant to take over responsibility and ownership and the organization is not moving anywhere. Instead of waiting forever, ScrumMaster shall be a change agent, responsible for the entire organization Agile journey.

Scrum and Agile Expert

It’s enough to understand Agile and Scrum. Which is simple so we are done. Being ScrumMaster is a journey, and you can never stop learning. Even if you feel you know Agile and Scrum, there is always something new. And there are those other domains you need to master: coaching, facilitation, change, business agility, team dynamics, technical practices, leadership, … The learning is never ending.

We Are Great Team, We Are Done.

Often ScrumMasters let their team believe they can be done. The team is good, we finished our Agile transformation. Don’t bother us with new ideas. We know how to work. We are self-organized. You can never be done in a complex environment. There is always a better way. So instead of this false believe, ScrumMasters shall coach the team so they see other opportunities to inspect and adapt.

Five books every Agile leader should read before they start Agile transformation

To continue my with my book recommendations (check Five books every ScrumMaster should read and Five books every Product Owner should read), I have several books here, I would recommend every Agile Leader and manager in Agile Organization to read before they start Agile transformation. It’s a mix which will help you to understand Agile Leadership, Agile Organization, it’s structure, design, and culture and allow you to adapt to the different leadership style. Enjoy reading 🙂

  1. Niels Pflaeging – Organize for Complexity: How to Get Life Back Into Work to Build the High-Performance Organization is about complexity and work – and about how to deal productively with both. A condensed introduction to the theory and practice of organizational high performance. A manifesto for contemporary leadership and profound transformation in organizations of all kinds. It is “practically theoretic”, featuring cutting-edge insight. It proposes new language and thinking for a new way of work and organizations.
  2. Frederic Laloux – Reinventing Organizations is a must. The way we manage organizations seems increasingly out of date. Survey after survey shows that a majority of employees feel disengaged from their companies. The epidemic of organizational disillusionment goes way beyond Corporate America-teachers, doctors, and nurses are leaving their professions in record numbers because the way we run schools and hospitals kills their vocation. Government agencies and nonprofits have a noble purpose, but working for these entities often feels soulless and lifeless just the same. All these organizations suffer from power games played at the top and powerlessness at lower levels, from infighting and bureaucracy, from endless meetings and a seemingly never-ending succession of change and cost-cutting programs.
  3. Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS is looking at the organizational design from a different perspective. Rather than asking, “How can we do agile at scale in our big complex organization?” a different and deeper question is, “How can we have the same simple structure that Scrum offers for the organization, and be agile at scale rather than do agile?” This profound insight is at the heart of LeSS. In Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS, Craig Larman and Bas Vodde have distilled over a decade of experience in large-scale LeSS adoptions towards a simpler organization that delivers more flexibility with less complexity, more value with less waste, and more purpose with less prescription.
  4. The Responsibility Process: Unlocking Your Natural Ability to Live and Lead with Power is about FREEDOM, POWER, and CHOICE. Leadership is innate. The Responsibility Process proves it. The Responsibility Process is a natural mental pattern that helps you process thoughts about taking or avoiding responsibility. How you navigate it determines whether you are leading toward meaningful results or just marking time. This book gives you precision tools, practices, and leadership truths to navigate The Responsibility Process and lead yourself and others to freedom, power, and choice.
  5. Leadership and Self Deceptions shows how most personal and organizational problems are the result of a little-known problem called self-deception. Through an entertaining and highly instructive story, Leadership and Self-Deception shows what self-deception is, how people get trapped in it, how it undermines personal achievement and organizational performance, and- most importantly the surprising way to solve it.

BONUS:

Finally, there is a bonus book which I wrote a few years after this blogpost 🙂 The Agile Leader: Leveraging the Power of Influence Book published in December 2020 will help you to unleash your agile leadership potential and guide your entire organization toward agility. It’s a great overview of concepts for managers, directors, executives, and entrepreneurs―anyone, regardless of position, who’s ready to take ownership, challenge the status quo, and become a true agile leader. See more at https://greatagileleader.com.