10 Things Agile Executives Need To Do Differently

Agile adoption is sometimes driven from the top by courageous executives boldly declaring “We’re going agile!”.  They see a vision of a better, happier place, where development is better, faster, cheaper, and they want it.  That’s understandable, of course.  But some don’t realise the implications.  When moving to agile methods, it’s not just teams that need to change.  Executives need to change too.

Here are 10 things agile executives need to do differently:

1.  Do Less – limit work in progress at portfolio level, eliminate waste, create focus, do less in parallel, keep things simple.

2.  Explore & Adapt – rather than follow a plan.

3.  Learn Fast – short feedback loops, tolerate mistakes, value learning and continuous improvement.

4.  One Team, One Goal – avoid silos by setting up product oriented, co-located, multi-disciplined teams with shared purpose; squash politics.

5.  Focus On Value – focus on value over cost, deliver value earlier/incrementally, concentrate on building the right product.

6.  Empower Teams – inspire and engage, provide opportunity for intrinsic motivators: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

7.  Accept Hard Truths – be open, accept difficult messages, support the team in resolving them; agile doesn’t solve your problems, it highlights them.

8.  Think Big, Start Small – have the big vision, but deliver it in small bite-sized pieces.

9.  Collaborate – play nicely, be supportive, give your people’s time, actively participate in projects.

10.  Lead By Example – be agile yourself, use agile techniques, exhibit agile principles, adopt a servant leadership style.

If you want your teams to be truly agile, take a hard look at yourself and your executive colleagues.  Are you agile too?  Are you setting agile up for success?  Are your behaviours creating an environment where agile can flourish?  This is very important if you want your teams to succeed.  If you ask for agile, but your own behaviour is inconsistent with agile principles, your teams won’t be able to change fully, even if they want to, and you’ll only get a fraction of the benefits you could otherwise achieve.

Are you an Agile Executive?

10 things agile executives need to do differently

5 Responses to “10 Things Agile Executives Need To Do Differently”

  1. Eric says:

    Hi Kelly,

    Great write up and for me, quite timely as I have a friend (no, really) who is trying to bring Agile methods to a startup, and running into some of these very issues.

    In particular, she’s struggling with a CTO who keeps injecting himself into standups, retros and is often overruling her in front of the team, which all fly in the face of #4’s admonition to squash politics, #6 empower teams, and #10, exhibit Agile principles and servant leadership.

    I’ve advised her to try and engage him in a conversation about what he’s trying to achieve and what the end state he envisions looks like and the path to get there, in hopes that it will provide some illumination into the error of his ways, but I have my doubts it will work. So my question is, is there any advice you would have in this situation?


  2. Kelly Waters says:

    Thanks for your comment Eric. That’s a difficult one, especially if the CTO is more senior than your “friend” ;)

    I guess it would be too strong a hint if you print off my ’10 things’ as a poster and stick it on the team’s wall?!

    Alternatively I think your friend needs to find the right opportunity to talk to him 121. If she is able to do that, she should talk about how she feels and what she would like to be able to do, rather than about what he does. In other words, she should say “I” more than “You”.

    If that’s not possible, is there someone she could confide in that the CTO respects that could potentially talk to him more freely…


  3. Jacob says:

    Great post, the picture is awesome as a quick reference.

    As to the too strong of a hint to print it off and hang on the wall…I printed two off, left them on my manager’s desk, with a sticky note to give the other to a friend ;)

  4. Kelly, super article. Loved the visuals. did your artist do them? could I get a contact? thanks much

  5. Kelly Waters says:

    Thanks Charles, glad you like it!

    Actually I did the drawings myself :)

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