True Leaders Have Innovation Epics And Management Sprints

Reproduced with permission from Forbes

“Who dear? Me, dear? Agile, dear? No, dear!”

The philosophy behind Agile and its many practice incarnations has been around for what will soon be 20 years but it’s only recently that we start seeing it truly break its way out of the confines of the realm of software development and starting to spread across organizations at every level in lieu of remaining the appanage of project management and IT teams.

Granted it is a slow spread and some parts of the organization seem to believe they are exempt from changing the way they work, but we are starting to see a shift in deeply seated mentalities around its benefits.

It’s hard to argue with the tangible results of transforming any work function into a practice of some type of Agile process. More things get done and they get done faster. More importantly, new things get done – things that hadn’t yet made their way to unchallenged stale lists now have the space to enter backlogs and a fair chance at being prioritized and that allows any type of knowledge-based team to test and fail and ultimately innovate.

Seeing how we are designing revolutionary technology meant to bridge the gap between technology and humans, the company I work for needs to hold a de-facto beauty contest for those organizations that have taken Agile to heart and don’t just pay it lip service before we embark on building together. We need the companies where they live and breath it, not where they roll it out as a PR exercise so we tend to ask a set of really uncomfortable questions from the get-go.

“Is your management board Agile?” – “No, really, does your CEO have a backlog and a bunch of cards whether they are on a list, in a Trello board or stuck on the wall?” – “What about your CTO and CIO, how have they redefined their velocity ambitions in the last year?” – “How do you encourage and discourage agile and non-agile behaviors? Do you know what they are?” – “How many of your people truly understand Agile in their heart of hearts and how many do Agile by numbers?”

Of all of the above, hard as it is to accurately measure the level of theoretical investment into the idea and the depth of understanding that the entire organization has, the hardest questions to ask -and answer- are those pertaining to how “sold to Agile” management are.

Managers vs. Leaders

The smarter a shop the company in question is, the more “of course we do Agile in our management team” holds true. These are organizations that have a real leadership team and not a collection of mid-managers that accidentally accesses executive positions. These are organizations where consultancies that try to reassure by saying “it’s ok, Agile is just a fad, it will pass like all the other trends” get no business. These are the companies where the big Agile A-ha! penny has dropped so clearly it made a resounding sound in the hearts and minds of everyone from Ops to Finance, from Legal to IT and has profoundly changed how everyone thinks and works.

There are a handful of these organizations out there and the one thing they all have in common is how they are all winning.

The “don’t-worry-about-Agile” consultancies like to claim that this winning is only possible for tech companies. That should your organization belong to any other industry you can’t or shouldn’t be Agile. That’s a bankrupt piece of advice that short-term history will fiercely sanction as soon as those who took it are forced to realize they are being disrupted, left behind or even wiped out in part by their lack of willingness to work faster and better and innovate at a pace that being Agile would have allowed them to.

Last week I was talking to the CEO’s of one of the winners and short of buying our technology on the spot, the best thing he could have said to me was “I’ll prioritize the story in my innovation epic”.

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