Fast results with agile leadership

Agile leadership
Atholl Duncan By Atholl Duncan, ICAS Executive Director, UK and Global

14 March 2018

Agile leadership may become the business buzz phrase of 2018, as Atholl Duncan explains.

When 17 digital pioneers met in the Snowbird Mountain Resort in Utah in 2001 their focus was to transform the process of software development. They aimed to deliver in shorter cycles; to achieve continuous improvement; and to be able to deal with much more rapid adjustments to change.

They invented agile. From that moment flowed concepts such as the “scrum”; “lean development”; “stand-ups”; “sprints”; and “kanban”.

One of the simplest definitions of agile can be found on Investopedia: “A core principle of agile methodology is satisfying and providing customer value through continuous deliverables.

"Rather than tackling one big project over a long period of time, agile methods break a project into smaller, simpler and more manageable tasks that can be completed more effectively and more quickly.”

Agile is truly bottom up rather than top down. Senior management’s role is to define the outcome but leave the solution to others working in “scrums”.

What if it could deliver positive returns on 50% of new products? What if it could help marketing generate 40% more leads?

It puts coaching at the heart of the business; it means “stand-up” brainstorming meetings around the office; and it involves empowering staff.

It is about teams that are self-managed, cross-functional and often outside the existing hierarchy. It is about working in smaller increments of time while stoking the corporate metabolism.

The rise of agile leadership in all areas of business

For the past 17 years these yoga-like concepts have shaped the cult of the software developer, but now agile working has spread across other business functions like Californian wildfire.

Understanding of agile remains patchy in most C-suites. Harvard research shows that 80% of business executives know little beyond the basics.

The spread of agile raises intriguing opportunities, however. What if a company could take the transformation agile has achieved in software and deliver the same results across the business?

What if it could deliver positive returns on 50% of new products? What if it could help marketing generate 40% more leads? What if it could help double the number of employees positively engaged in their work?

In a world that is changing so quickly, maybe the time has come for radical change.

These are the improvements agile has brought to IT in many of the companies where it has been wholeheartedly embraced. With such possibilities, why wouldn’t you roll it out more widely?

The very thought could send some CAs spluttering towards the Tanqueray. Agile is the antithesis of command and control; a frightening sight to executives weaned on traditional hierarchy.

It is true that 70% of agile workers report tension with others in the business who don’t entirely get what they are doing. But in a world that is changing so quickly, maybe the time has come for radical change.

So, in 2018 can you afford to not be thinking agile? Chances are your competitors will be.


The Original Manifesto for Agile (2001)

1. Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of value.

2. Welcome changing requirements, even in late development.

3. Working software is delivered frequently (weeks rather than months).

4. Close, daily co-operation between business people and developers.

5. Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted.

6. Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location).

7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.

8. Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace.

9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design.

10. Simplicity – the art of maximising the amount of work not done– is essential.

11. Best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organising teams.

12. Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective, and adjusts accordingly.

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