Certified Agile Leadership

What it was:

A two-day interactive course on the leadership aspects of agile, run by the Agile Centre in London on 6 and 7 December 2018.

This course forms the Scrum alliance certified agile leadership (CAL) credential 1

What I learned:


“Conversational turn-taking” and “Ostentatious listening” – These create psychological safety

The key principles behind agile:

* Law of the small team: Small teams working on small tasks in short iterative work cycles delivering value to customers
* Law of the customer: an obsession with continuously adding more value for customers
* Law of the network: coordinating work in an interactive network

Self managing, organising teams are productive and efficient


Agile overview:

Our reasons for doing agile:
* Be more customer centric
* Respond quickly to change
* Reduce risk in complex projects
* Adaptability

Economic trends and market factors for Agile:
* Complexity
* Speed to market
* Demanding customers
* Staff empowerment
* Globalisation of markets

Complexity and uncertainty:
* Uncertainty around what
* Uncertainty around how

Low Uncertainty around what, low Uncertainty around how: E.g building a bridge
This is simple

Low or medium uncertainty around how or what
This is complicated

High Uncertainty around what, high uncertainty around how
This is chaos

The rest… This is complex. This is where agile thrives. You need fast feedback to make it work!

Agile is a response to the VUCA world. It is about incremental adaptive delivery, and course correction. Agile assumes you do not have perfect information up front

Management trends fitting to the business environment of the time:
* Assembly line working; a simple approach used in the 1900s
* Waterfall; useful in a complicated world of infrastructure projects , mid twentieth century
* Agile and Scrum; demanded by the VUCA world of early 21st century

There is a need to improve my organisation agility because:
* We face a VUCA world
* Our Customers do not fully understand what they want and need

Agile transformation:

The main areas are:
* Processes and practices
* Structure and policies
* Culture and leadership
Organisations tend to focus on processes and practices as these are easiest to change quickly
But you need to do all of them!
Most agile training and coaching also tends to focus on agile processes and practices – the idea that if everyone could write good user stories then everything would be OK!
Agile leadership focuses on the structures, policies, culture and leadership

Challenges an organisation might face in adopting agile:
* Lack of enablers
* Organisational silos

Main impediments in my organisation:
* Lack of resource and skills
* Enabling processes are not agile

Do we require mainly changes to processes, structures or culture?
The answer is structures and culture – processes we can do as we go!

What role will leadership play in the change?
* Set context, and then culture
* Make the case
* Deliver the changes

The Agile leader

Management is an old practice and was designed in the 1890s for a different world. We face new challenges:
* Exponential change
* Greater speed and competition
* Knowledge advantage is hard to sustain
Management was created to solve a problem, to get people to do what you wanted, and not think too hard. The world has changed, now we need to exploit thinking, creativity and knowledge.
Organisational agility is one on the biggest correlates of business performance
Leadership agility is a key component of organisational agility

A model for leadership agility:
* Expert leaders
* Achiever leaders
* Catalyst leaders

The catalyst leader works to create the right culture, though actions and behaviour, to encourage and empower senior team leaders. They articulate an inspiring vision and empower and develop others to make it a reality.

Exercise: I am spending too much time doing, not enough leading, and hardly any coaching. I should be doing more coaching, and some leading, and much less doing! This resonated strongly with me. I am operating as an achiever leader, but it’s critically important for me to be a catalyst leader!

For agile to take root, we need catalyst leaders across the organisation.

“Post-heroic leadership”: leaders who develop beyond the achiever level to create highly participative teams and organisations characterised by shared commitment and responsibility

Agile culture

Culture can make an enormous difference to productivity
Organisational culture is the most frequently identified blocker to agile
“If you do not manage culture, it manages you”
Creating the right culture is the most important thing you do as a leader

Competing values in organisations
* Collaborate
* Control
* Create
* Compete

For ‘control’ (hierarchical) organisations like ours, compatibility with agile is inherently low. Processes and procedures often outweigh people and products. Governance can become burdensome and hierarchies are often a barrier to change. The best Agile framework to lead with in a control organisation is Kanban or SAFe.

There is a simple framework to help organisations understand how they need to change they culture to become more agile friendly

We must work hard collectively to create an enabling culture. Without that, Agile values, principles and practices will never survive.


Increasing engagement

Organisations with engaged employees achieve 250% higher net revenues than their competitors with disengaged employees

Increase engagement through:
* Autonomy, ability to be self directed
* Mastery, ability to get better and learn new skills
* Purpose, bring about positive change

Need a growth mindset to lead in an agile context

From the David Marquette talk:
* Leadership is about embedding the potential for greatness
* If you want people to think, give intent not instructions
* Get your people to think what you are thinking, ask them what do you think I am thinking?
* Move the authority where the information is.
* Don’t take control and attract followers
* Give control and create leaders

Reflection: I prefer thinking and doing on leading and coaching my team and managing stakeholders than I do about the actual mechanics of my day job. I should sacrifice the day job for leadership, not the other way round!

Agile structures

To realise the efficiency of agile the organisation structure must be such that it can. Creating small agile teams in organisations not designed for agility will not likely give these efficiencies.

Lessons from the case studies:
* Communicating across teams and giving everyone a whole system view, so that everybody had some understanding of the whole
* Accepting that communication is necessary even if it comes with a local efficiency cost
* The complex interaction of parts

The common themes:
* Moving from efficiency to adaptiveness
* Removing silos and hand offs
* Invest in shared understanding
* Creating radical transparency
* Remove barriers to communication
* Decentralising decision making

Three waves: one single teams, scrum. Two, Scaled agile, three is the agile business

Organisation design

Scrum team is cross functional and has all of the necessary skills
Analyse, build, test, release quickly in an agile increment
Get teams to spend time with each other, encourage those relationships
Organising by feature not by function
Attributes that contribute to competitive advantage, in order
* Passion (contributes most)
* Creativity
* Initiative
* Intellect
* Diligence
* Obedience (contributes zero)

Management practices tend to maximise the bottom two, and ignore the top three. This is the wrong way round!
Collocation is key. Once people are more than ten metres apart, the chance of them collaborating drops off significantly

Great teams are
* Collocated
* Self organising
* Psychologically safe

Agile Governance

Governance is doing the right things, and doing things right

The (absurd) underlying assumptions of traditional project governance
* It is possible to know up front the best things to build to delight our customer
* Our is possible to know up front how much it will cost and how long
* Centralised bureaucracies are best placed to pick winning ideas
* Things will change little as we progress
* It is sensible to place big bets on minimal information

Better to have an experimentation pot, fund all business cases at small scale and then cancel the ones that are not successful, than choose a few big bets and give them all the funding up front.

Have an empowered product manager, with ‘control tribes’ alongside e.g. compliance, finance, legal.
This actually gives the control tribes more control, as they keep a tight rein in the money and can relate this closely to success, rather than signing over all the money at the start
The sprint review becomes the governance meeting

Leading the change

Nine steps, in order:
1. Align on the vision – why are we doing this?
2. Educate leadership
3. Align on current culture
4. Align on desired culture
5. Align on desired structure
6. Align on the starting framework – e.g. scrum
7. Establish the agility team
8. Educate all the teams
9. Experiment, measure, evolve – run small experiments and measure impact

Start with why. Need a sense of urgency among senior leaders
Get leaders to understand. Make them choose red or blue pill – are they really up for this?
The agility team, also known as the executive action team, establish the backlog of changes needed and deliver them in an agile way. Organisational change is the product.
They are a cross-functional team of empowered leaders

Complex change requires all five of the following in place
* Vision
* Skills
* Incentives
* Resources
* Action plan

Learning from the Q and A session:

Working in a truly agile business can be very empowering and refreshing… But then you get all the approvals very quickly then you have to deliver, so be careful what you ask for!

What I will aim to do differently as a result

This course contained much of immediate value to my work, and much that I could follow up on. I need to reflect on the courses content in slower time to determine how this could change my strategy in digital transformation

As a team leader, I need to:
* Create context for my team leaders
* Reforge the senior team
* Invest time in team leadership
* Be outward facing, talk to our customers

I need to move from expert leader, through achiever leader, to catalyst leader. I will significantly re-prioritise my week and my time in order to make sure I am coaching and catalysing, not doing.

I will Coach my team to use the framework to do some analysis on what our organisation needs to do to create an agile enabling culture

I will recognise that I can improve, my performance is not fixed

I will reflect to senior staff that agile is a leadership style and leadership capability, as much as it is a technical / project management approach

I will examine how the recipe for agile transformation can be applied to defence, can agile transformation be reflected in our wider strategy?

Reasonable Challenge

What it was:

Short workshop on ‘Reasonable challenge’ in London on 26 September 2018.

What I learned:

  • The Chilcot report, which examined Government decision-making in the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, warned against the dangers of ‘group-think’.
  • Challenge is a key way of fighting group-think.
  • Challenge is difficult in a hierarchical organisation like defence. We can get swept up in ‘senior narratives’ and find ourselves working within these without necessarily challenging them.
  • Being on the receiving end of challenge is difficult for leaders. The instinct can be fight or flight.
  • The MOD has developed a simple Reasonable Challenge guide that helps people to direct challenge in the right way, and helps leaders to encourage and harness challenge.
  • The language we use to introduce a reasonable challenge is important, make sure to phrase it as a helpful suggestion
  • The role of leaders is to create a context in which everyone can make a reasonable challenge.
  • Reasonable challenge is now being baked into training across government.

What I will aim to do differently as a result:

  • Apply reasonable challenge lessons at work
  • Publicise the reasonable challenge guide in my team
  • Conduct a workshop to explore how we apply challenge in our team
  • Consider recognising or rewarding team members for making good use of challenge

Business Ethics across Generations

What it was:

A report on trends in attitudes to ethics in business, reviewed as part of my PR CPD.
Source: http://bit.ly/1RJl74H

What I learned:

Ageing  populations  and the new generation entering  the workplace are creating opportunities and challenges for employers in embedding ethics.

Understanding different characteristics of these generations is fundamental to building a culture founded on ethical values.

Four generations can be (loosely) identified:

  • Traditionalists (born between 1922 and 1945)
  • Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)
  • Generation X (born between 1965 and 1982)
  • Generation Y or Millennials (born between 1983 and 2004).

Millennials account for 25% of the workforce in the US and it is predicted that by 2020, they will form 50% of the global workforce

Boomers and Traditionalists seem to be less prepared than other age groups, as they developed professionally before such a function became commonplace. However, the underlying attitudes of these two generations seem to be less accepting of unethical behaviour.

Millennials want worthwhile work – a majority want to work for a company that makes a positive impact, half prefer purposeful work to a high salary, and 53% would work harder if they felt they were making a difference to others

Organisations should seek to leverage the different generations’ strengths, to create a working environment that values differences and bridges potential generational gaps

A strong ethics culture can motivate employees to do the right thing and increase employee engagement

Use of ethics ambassadors across the divide: Potentially,  Millennials can be effective ethics ambassadors as they are natural networkers and familiar with new technologies, but at the same time older employees may have a more established reputation for integrity.

Use of metrics and bench-marking to segment the workforce can be useful to understand the employee’s expectations from their job at different stages of their career.

What I will aim to do differently as a result:

Try to reflect likely communication styles of different generations in internal communications activities.

Remember different motivations of staff of different generations.

Consider use of “generational ambassadors” in internal campaigns.

Try to ensure that senior staff are aware of these differences when they communicate (junior staff likely to be a different generation from them!)

Be careful about following this analysis too slavishly – cannot discriminate against any one generation (Equalities Act) e.g. by assuming one generation is susceptible to acting unethically. 

Also a good idea to take such inter-generational analyses with a pinch of salt! 


Who are you? Exploring the intersections of identity

What it was:

Day of talks and discussions with Richard Heaton, MoJ permanent secretary and civil service race champion, plus other speakers from across Whitehall, held at the MOD on 11 October 2017.

What I learned:

Intersectionality is typically when people are a member of more than one minority group e.g. someone who is LGBT+ and a member of an ethnic minority.

Some of the hardest challenges are faced by people at these intersections – but  these intersections are also opportunities to embrace and enhance diversity.

“Diversity is being invited to the party… Inclusion is being asked to dance”

Different aspects of intersectionality may manifest in different contexts e.g. in a room full of men you are a woman, but in a room full of white people you are black.

What if you bring everything that you are to the party?

Authenticity is key.

What I will aim to do differently as a result:

Think about my ‘micro behaviours’ with my own team – do I use exclusive language / make exclusive judgements without conscious awareness?

Be more inclusive – for example, make sure team events are inclusive.

Ask new team members about their background.

Think about my privileges, what they are, and how I can use my privileges to help others.