We had the great pleasure of sponsoring and attending this year’s Agile Alliance Executive Forum in San Jose, CA earlier this week.

There was a great lineup of speakers including:

Rob Mee:  Pivotal

Karyn Hayes-Ryan:  NGA

Faye Fall:  American Express

Jennifer Richardson:   BCBS

Stelio Verzera:   Cocoon Projects

Hugh Molotsi:  Investor/Advisor

Ahmed Sidky:  Riot Games


The most interesting pattern in my mind is that all of them really focused on a few key aspects of agile leadership … building the capabilities of their teams by mostly getting out of the way!  Here are some key themes for those who were not able to attend.


Question the Role of Management

Move away from manager as ‘problem solver’ to manager as enabler of personal growth.  Give people room to creatively solve problems, develop their own solutions, make a few mistakes, and learn.   Through this approach, teams become stronger, organizations become more resilient, staff become more engaged, and managers begin to get some time and focus back so that they can apply themselves to more strategic endeavors.


Optimize for Change and Adaptability

Much of management concerns itself with optimizing solutions to specific problems.  We set up detailed requirements, detailed plans, detailed roles, detailed tasks, etc in order to get a specific outcome to a specific problem.  That is all fine except that it is extremely ‘tactical’.  All of the leaders at the conference were trying to optimize their organizations for adaptability.    They know the problem space is changing, the technology is changing, customer needs are changing, etc.  And if they are to be successful, the thing that they need to optimize is the ability to predict, react, pivot, and respond.   Such optimization requires a learning focused organization that is nimble in its processes, its roles, and its people.  They all talked about being less prescriptive in terms of product, process, and people in order to let better, faster solutions emerge.


Management is an Activity Not a Role, and it is Both Dynamic and Diffuse

To be nimble and responsive, organizations need a much more nimble notion of management and leadership.  All of the leaders at the conference focused on purposely making roles more vague.  They focused on giving their teams a challenge and letting them organize to solve the problem.   With fewer defined roles and broader definitions for these roles, teams had to figure out for themselves who was going to do what, when to do it, and how.   As teams take on these challenges, they are able to bring their whole selves into the environment.   Leadership and management become ‘activities’, not titles.  One person may take charge at one point in the endeavor but others make take over during other parts of the effort.   Management becomes a job to be done and there are often many people who can manage different parts of the mission.  People get a chance to grow, we get multiple minds on the problems, and people are more fully engaged often leading to better and faster solutions.


Learning Implies Mistakes and That is OK

These models will take time to sync in and certainly, mistakes will be made along the way.   But it is only through falling down that we learn to ride a bike.   At some point, we as concerned parents/managers/etc need to let go of the bike and turn the kids loose to figure it out.  When we do that, they can grow, and we can turn our attention to other matters.  All of the leaders at the conference encouraged teams to try things out, experiment.  If we can let non-catastrophic failures happen, our teams will learn and will be able to take on bigger and bigger challenges which will ultimately benefit the organization.


Management is a Form of Waste … $3 Trillion Worth!

Finally, all of these themes are consistent with a recent Harvard Business Review article which basically says that management is a form of waste as it does not directly contribute to customer value in most case.  It is extremely expensive and much of it is entirely unnecessary.  See the HBR article for more on this fascinating topic.


This year’s conference had excellent speakers and content and all of it led me to believe that even the largest organizations are questioning the role of management.


-Roland Cuellar

Need help explaining agility to your management or getting the rest of your executive team on board? Chat about the future of management with one of our coaches at info@lithespeed.com.