Monday, April 23, 2007

Growing Your Leaders

Alan Shalloway from the Net Objectives Thoughts blog challenges how Agile has viewed management and leadership up to this point in his post "The Need for Leadership in Scrum". Here are some highlights:

There underscores the notion that self-managing teams and direction from the top are somehow opposed to each other. In practice, this may be. But that is because in practice, leadership is missing. Direction in the form of command and control is bad. Direction in the form of vision and matching people to their abilities is not. This points to one deficiency I have seen in the general Agile community, and one that, I believe, is a serious impediment to having the Agile community have success at the enterprise level. I am referring to the fact that most Agilists do not trust management to do what is right – they feel the team must be protected from management. I have heard this opinion voiced in several books and from several leading agile consultants/practitioners – and I disagree with it.

Unfortunately, this attitude has been pervasive from the beginning of the Agile community. Given the heavy focus on over-bearing process that has gripped this industry for years, this is not surprising. However, it is time to include leadership and management in the transition to agile methods. We must see how we can marry respect for people (and hence the team) along with process. This requires leadership and proper management.

Buckingham, in his excellent book, The One Thing You Should Know describes leadership as the “ability to create a solid vision of a better future for those people he/she is leading. ” A leader must have a compelling desire to move towards that vision. Buckingham defines management as the “ability to match people’s tasks with their skills. ” A good manager is liked a skilled Chess Master. As opposed to checkers, where all the pieces (until one gets kinged) are the same, in chess, different pieces have different strengths. A good chess player knows how to use these strengths. A good manager knows how to maximize the strengths of his staff. Hence, leadership and management are not opposed to each other – they just have different functions.

Keeping Buckingham’s views in mind, the role of leadership and management then is to create the vision for the Scrum teams to be effective and to staff the teams with the appropriate resources. But just creating the vision is not enough. Leadership and management must help create the structure within which the team works to assist the team. This is something Scrum teams cannot do on their own. Ignoring this issue is what often has Scrum teams feel they must protect themselves from the organization when what they need to do is help the organization see how to better support the team.

If Scrum can’t help us here, what can? This is where Lean Thinking comes in. In a nutshell, Lean Thinking tells us to set things up so we can have fast-flexible-flow. That is, we can get customer requests in and get business value out – quickly and repeatedly. At Net Objectives we base our entire software development philosophy on this (which is why we call it SPeeD: Sustainable Product Development). The issue is – “how can I develop software quickly now (to deliver business value quickly) while retaining the ability to add business value quickly in the future.”

Read more in Alan's post.

In the book The Toyota Way by Jeffery Liker, one of the 14 principles outlined says "Grow Leaders Who Throughly Understand the Work, Live the Philosophy, and Teach It to Others". At the beginning of the chapter, there's an excellent quote that parallels Alan's frustration mentioned above:

Until senior management gets their egos out of the way and goes to the whole team and leads them all together...senior management will continue to miss out on the brain power and extraordinary capabilities of all their employees. At Toyota, we simple place the highest value on our team members and do the best we can to listen to them and incorporate their ideas into our planning process. -- Alex Warren, former Senior VP, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky.

In summarizing this principle, Liker says:

If we look at all of the great leaders in Toyota's history we see they share several common traits:
1) Focused on a long-term purpose for Toyota as a value-added contributor to society.
2) Never deviated from the precepts of the Toyota Way DNA and lived and modeled themselves around this for all to see.
3) Worked their way up doing the detailed work and continued to go to the gemba - the actual place where the real added-value work is done.
4) Saw problems as opportunities to train and coach their people.

This doesn't sound like the ol' command and control type of manager works in this paradigm does it? However, managers are needed to provide Agile teams this kind of guidance. To do so, managers must respect team members as well as the other way around. Each have their place and need to understand their interdependencies in order to be a successful organization.

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