Saturday 20 April 2024

Top 3 Agile Leadership Lessons

Over the course of working on many diverse application and software projects, it’s always easy to spot challenges that the team will face when leadership is not engaged in the process. Below are the top 3 common pitfalls seen for agile leaders to avoid when undertaking a new project and managing teams.

1. Get involved in the process

All great application development and software is a result of a group effort, it’s absolutely critical for all technology leadership to support and nurture the process. As part of a strong, agile team, executive management needs to be involved actively and weigh in on key strategy decisions. In general, groups of people will always demonstrate better “decision making” results than individuals. Development and Product teams should strive to work completely exposed and as transparent as possible to all ends of the business.

In addition, the key role of having leadership team member play “devil’s advocate” is essential to avoid team degradation. Over time, an institutionalized group (typically when a team of devs work together for 12 months or more directly together) gets used to its devil’s advocates and learns to disregard their reasoning. As a result of this, its imperative to change up who wears the devil’s advocate hat, a healthy process of renewal that resides within solid agile best practices.

2. Engage and help nurture your product backlog

It’s equally important for management to know the product backlog, and be able to identify features that are yet to be developed. Involvement at the executive level to weigh in on prioritizing specific features according to business value (anticipated ROI) is important to ensure the team isn’t wasting enormous amounts time and effort in meetings discussing things and not actually doing it. The event you want to avoid is regrouping after two weeks with little accomplished, and bewildered faces from stakeholders as to why nothing has been done, and teams waiting on decisions.

The key is to ensure that leadership is engaged in the process each step of the way, so that product backlog decisions are done quickly and communicated outward to the group. A common pitfall of any agile team is having a stale backlog that no one sees or cares about.

3. Build trust with your team

One of the most critical duties of a great Agile leader is to build trust, on every level possible. Trust is an extremely fragile (and often short) state with an agile team, and often regaining trust from key product owners and stakeholders is much more difficult than building it. On occasion, broken trust can simply never be rebuilt; a leader needs to simply accept this fact and adjust accordingly.

When team members openly (or even worse, secretively) do not trust in each other to succeed, it often leads to disaster. Communication breaks down between the group, siloing people and feedback that is otherwise essential for the success of the product. When these kinds of situations occur, use retrospective time to open the flood gates and ensure that grievances are vetted and that a positive step can be taken to move forward for the benefit of the product, and the organization. Conflict can be a healthy thing sometimes.

For more great info on Agile practices in general, check out Mike Cohn’s blog at MountainGoatSoftware, or AgileBenchBlog.


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Justin Hoffman is a NYC based developer and technology leader. He writes about web development and processes, mobile trends, and consumer-facing technology. Justin is a frequent speaker at many national events with focus on Technology and Agile, including DrupalCon, Agile Allegiance, and DreamForce (Salesforce) conferences. He is currently spearheading a development team at Asset International.

One thought on “Top 3 Agile Leadership Lessons

  1. SimperFi

    Nice take on this. I actually have a similar problem with some of the execs in my organization that basically refuse to ‘listen’ and get involved. This is causing alot of extra stress for my team as they waste hours explaining things over and over.



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