How do executives and leaders transform into students of Agile?
One of the first things that an executive of leader needs to explore, is complexity.
Complexity is the business case for agility.
In the past, we had experts who would come together to figure out the problem based on their extensive knowledge and expertise.
In civil engineering, for example, we know how to build bridges, we know all the variables associated with building bridges, and we have a pretty good idea of how much it will cost, how long it will take, and who the best bridge builders are.
In a world of complexity, we don’t know what we don’t know and since the problem has never been solved before nor has the product or feature ever been built before, we don’t know all the variables involved nor can we possibly know until we have solved the problem or built the thing.
In a complex space, we need experts – sometimes from completely different fields of work – and we need fresh thinking to help solve problems or build complex products.
Covid was a perfect example.
The ski mask Boris Johnson wore during Covid – the mask with the multiple oxygen injectors – was a great spin on an old idea. That required innovation and fresh thinking.
It wasn’t an example of expert thinking using pre-existing knowledge, it was instead a great example of problem-solving in a complex space.
In a complex world, we need more exploratory types of thinking and the ability to deal with uncertainty. We need to embrace discovery over using templates of what has worked in the past.
We need to learn and evolve, as we move through the process, and that responsiveness and ability to rapidly adapt based on data and evidence, is how agility empowers us to deal with complexity.
You don’t need to get caught up in a specific agile framework, you simply need to embrace the empirical loop of transparency, inspection, and adaptation. You can use any number of frameworks or models that embrace empirical process control and empowers you to learn through experimentation.
It doesn’t matter on the model or approach you use to learn through trial and error, Agility is simply a great starting point for empowering you to operate and evolve in complex environments.
I would recommend that executives and leaders explore the basics of flow because as a leader, when you ask your team to complete twice the work they completed last year – without any interventions such as additional resources or people or improvements in the organization – you need to first ask yourself how they could possibly achieve that?
It’s one of the fundamental principles of flow.
I often point out to leaders that your throughput is your capacity. If the team delivered 24 projects or products in the previous 12 months, their capacity is 24 projects or products within a year.
Maybe this year you need to plan for 20 projects/products rather than 24 because there may be 4 projects/products that we don’t know about just yet but will need to deliver within the year.
Focusing on improvement is great, but my initial recommendation is that we focus on a strong focus and finish that project/product before starting to focus on the next project/product and finishing that. We want to get into the practice of finishing what we identified as being the most valuable work to do and ensuring that we deliver that project/product to create satisfied customers.
If we don’t do that, we are simply overloading the team.
Think of a waiter with both hands full of spinning plates, trying desperately to keep the plates from falling whilst somebody keeps piling on more hot plates. Eventually, the plates fall to the ground and break.
A team can only handle so much pressure and has only so much capacity. Overburdening and overloading them simply results in low performance, low quality, and high staff turnover.
Take the time to really understand how value is created and consumed throughout the value stream and learn how to optimize flow. You can always make tweaks, improvements, or provide additional resources and people to optimize performance but you need to make sure you nail flow first.
About John Coleman
John Coleman has deep experience and expertise working with executives, #leadership teams and product development teams to achieve increased #businessagility and create environments where creativity and collaboration produce high-performance teams.
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