Leadership Agility: Transforming Problems into Results

March 30, 2012

My last post discussed reflective action from the book, Leadership Agility by William B. Joiner and Stephen A. Josephs. Reflective action is a leadership agility skill that guides you towards making better decisions, engaging in action, and then evaluating – reflecting – on what you’ve learned so that you develop as a leader.

As the book points out, if you are leading in a rapidly changing, complex business environment, you will be facing ill-structured problems. A key challenge for leaders in these situations is that solutions to these problems aren’t predefined, nor will they have one right answer. You will be working with incomplete information and evaluating a number of plausible solutions that will require what the authors called creative agility.

Creative agility is a combination of critical thinking skills and breakthrough thinking that generate “uniquely appropriate responses that transform these ill-structured problems into desired results.” Your creative agility is supported by two capacities:

CONNECTIVE AWARENESS: The ability to hold various ideas and experiences in mind, compare and contrast them, and make meaningful connections between them.

REFLECTIVE JUDGMENT. This capacity refers to the way you determine what’s true and what is the best course of action for solving ill-structured problems – and to the way you justify these views to yourself and to others.

Develop Your Agile Leadership Skills with Reflective Action

March 27, 2012

In today’s turbulent business climate, leaders are facing complex problems. A leader’s ability to successfully navigate continually changing, uncertain waters requires continual reflection and improvement. A great resource for developing your leadership capability can be found in the book, Leadership Agility by William B. Joiner and Stephen A. Josephs.

In their book, Joiner and Josephs state that, “At its core, leadership agility is a process of stepping back from your current focus in a way that allows you to make wiser decisions and then fully engage in what needs to be done next. We call this core process reflective action. Reflective action is both the essence of leadership agility and the best way to develop it.”

Being Agile: Preparing a User Group Talk

March 23, 2012

I’m preparing for a talk for our next Maine Agile User Group meeting on April 3rd, and I’ve decided that my topic will be: Being Agile versus Doing Agile. My goal is to convey an understanding of what it means to be truly agile. Early on, one of my slides asks:
  • Is Scrum agile?
  • Is TDD agile?
Friend and colleague Paul Corriveau recently answered this question in a blog post, Scrum Is Not Agile. I’ve had many conversations with Paul about agile, and we’re always looking to learn more and apply that learning, so it is no surprise to me that his post is consistent with my thinking. As Paul points out, building good software takes more than “process magic.” It takes effort and discipline to change your thinking and your approach to work in order to improve from where you are today.

Are You a True Servant Leader?

March 20, 2012

As a leader, are you adding value to your people? Without being a burden, that is?

In this age of autonomous, collaborative teams, true servant leaders need to ask themselves just that. At least as a starting point. I submit that the real answer to this question needs to come from those that you are serving, and not from within.

This question is important because the problem with the traditional, command-and-control model of management is that employees have to contend with overhead to provide a flow of information about what they are doing – and knowledge workers are the ones who know most about what they are dong – to others in management so that these managers can “direct” the employees more effectively.

And the overhead changes every time there is new leadership. Employees are continually contending with providing reports and information tailored to the preferred format of whoever is requiring the information. The unfortunate part about this is that too many management decisions are made with distorted information from offices or conference rooms that are at least once-removed from where the real action and day-to-day decisions are being made.

Is the Scrum Framework Lacking?

March 16, 2012

What does it take to succeed with agile? When we first started with agile development, we a sent a couple of people to an agile conference, and they returned with advice from others that we should expect to take about “two years to get it right.” We shook our heads and wondered why. After all, we had selected Scrum as our framework, and it seemed simple enough.

As we discovered, there is some real change lurking beneath that simplicity. The current Scrum Guide states that Scrum is:
  • Lightweight
  • Simple to understand
  • Extremely difficult to master
Adopting agile means more than adopting a simple framework, it means adopting a different way of working and interacting that involves some very real change. It is the change that is difficult to master, not the framework.

If You Are Afraid of Losing Control, Try This Experiment…

March 13, 2012

As VersionOne’s State of Agile Development Survey reveals, a couple of the greater concerns about agile development are expressed as management concerns. Management opposition being one and a loss of management control the other concern.

Management that lacks prior experience with agile won’t be familiar with, nor comfortable with, the autonomy and the inherent trust that comes with autonomy. Unfortunately, both autonomy and trust are required to be truly agile. The challenge for management is that most companies recognize that they need greater engagement from their employees; they need people who will think and act with a greater understanding and ownership of their work.

The dilemma is that while adopting agile and its use of autonomous teams can help to create the very conditions that result in having more engaged employees, there is concern that, “It won’t work for us.” Is there a way to test the waters without making a leap of faith? One that allows you to directly witness the power of autonomy unleashed to its fullest potential, in the context of your own environment and people? You bet there is.

It’s Not About Efficiency, It’s About Resiliency

March 9, 2012

“Most white-collar workers wear white collars, but they’re still working in the factory. They push a pencil or process an application or type on a keyboard instead of operating a drill press. The work is planned, controlled, and measured. It’s factory work because you can optimize for productivity.” – Seth Godin, in Linchpin

Seth Godin is urging us to become indispensable, original thinkers; those who are difference-makers and not commoditized, low-paid workers who are easily replaced. A great many organizations deliberately plan for efficiency and reliability by breaking work into distinct, specialized pieces that can be performed routinely, but there is a downside to “optimizing for productivity” in this way.

For today’s post, I’ll point you towards my guest posts on VersionOne’s Agile Management Blog, where I discuss a significant benefit of being agile: Organizational resilience.

The Agile Resiliency Factor: Part 1 of 2
The Agile Resiliency Factor: Part 2 of 2

“In Agile We Trust”

March 6, 2012

Being an agile organization is a major cultural shift from the way many organizations manage today, which can be broadly summed up as being plan-driven by a centralized, command-and-control structure that relies on a heavy dose of reporting. And while this model works, it is proving cumbersome, costly, and unable to adapt quickly enough in today’s turbulent business climate.

It’s not uncommon to hear senior executives express deep concern about the lack of employee engagement (which collectively costs U.S. companies hundreds of billions annually in terms of lost productivity) and the need for commitment and results from people because “they are our greatest asset.” Yet companies continue to manage in ways that say, “I don’t trust you” to the very people on the front line who are responsible for – and should be trusted – to conduct business with and for a company’s customers.

While there are many who will assert that they are using a “trust, but verify” model, companies expend a great deal of time and effort in reporting and oversight that is geared towards compliance – along with imposing serious constraints on what those on the front line can and can’t do without centralized approval. Even with information systems designed to facilitate the approval process, it’s still a cumbersome, inflexible and slow system that siphons time and attention away from delighting the customer and maximizing the value that the entire organization brings to the customer.

Worse, some companies manage solely “by the numbers,” creating a “management by fear” climate in the name of driving accountability. Don’t make your numbers and you’re history…

Strive for Excellence, not Perfection

March 2, 2012

Our mental models can get us into trouble. For example, managing very dynamic, highly variable efforts like software development though a series of crisp, well-defined, sequential phases seems to be very – to quote Mr. Spock – “logical.” Yet as many of us can attest, more often than not this logic breaks down rather quickly in actual practice.

The arguments for a sequential approach are sound, at least on the surface. You define your requirements, do your design, implement that design (code), and then verify (test) that everything is correct. Everything is in a nice neat, orderly, logical sequence of events.

What makes everything work well is the perfection of the outputs from each phase. The better execution you have in one phase leads to greater efficiency and effectiveness in downstream phases. In fact, studies have proven that finding and correcting problems (defects) increases significantly the deeper into the development phases you go:


What breaks down, and what can we do about it?