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Leaders: Are You Driving Agile or is it Driving You?

While organizations spend a significant amount on agile transformation in the form of training, coaching, tools, and the like, how many are getting the value that they had hoped for?  Enterprises are investing heavily in agility, striving for faster time to market, better business alignment, a more responsive organization, higher quality, etc, and many achieve some of those goals, to some degree, which is outstanding!

However, many organizations have not gotten the level of benefits that they had hoped for.   Most have gotten good returns from their agile investment, but their results have been far below their expectations.  Does this sound familiar?  Let’s see if I can pinpoint what’s happening.

Here are a few questions for you:

  1. Are most of your challenges and issues at the team and/or delivery level?
  2. Or, are most of your issues at the organizational boundary level, across the silos and departments?
  3. Are your organizations working together towards a common agile strategy?
  4. How much alignment exists on a vision for agile transformation?
  5. Do your fellow executives agree on what agile is and what it implies?

These questions point to an organization doing what I call ‘vertical agile’.   Several departments or functions are doing some agile improvement within their function.   When I look at most of the agile spend, it appears to be focused on the teams.  That is a start- teams need need strong support to make the transition.  Unfortunately, in these organizations, many of the major issues are not at the team level where the coaching and workshops are taking place, but are both higher up and also horizontally across the value chain.

Bottom up initiatives have their place, but they will only take you so far.   The full benefits of the agile approach will probably be out of reach unless leadership can develop:

  1. Product and service strategy that aligns with market forces
  2. Operational and delivery strategy aligned with the product strategy
  3. Staffing and Human Capital strategy aligned with operational delivery strategy
  4. Governance and oversight which aligns to the operational and delivery strategy
  5. A horizontal approach is employed to smooth the flow of delivery across org boundaries

These things won’t happen by themselves nor do they happen from the bottom up.   These are things that really require the leadership team to tackle.  Team members are a part of the overall system but it is the leadership team that owns the system, and only they can change it. 


As a mentor with the Agile Leadership Academy, I have seen leaders navigate these very changes, especially taking charge with aligning strategy.  The Agile Leadership Academy is a great place for leaders to expand their knowledge and skills from an executive standpoint.  In the Academy, executives learn the leadership side of:

  • Scaling Agility
  • Lean Product Development
  • Holistic Agile Organizations
  • Devops
  • Organizational Transformation
  • Agile Governance and Portfolio Management

We have several clients who are making the investment in new leadership models, organizational changes to align with agile, changing product strategies to take advantage of agile’s product pivoting capabilities, etc.  In short, they are putting in a new operating system and driving significant organizational change.  They are actively driving organizational agility.

Make sure your agile investment gets you the results you expect- include your leadership team in that investment.