Characteristics of an Agile Leader

AlignmentPrevious week Henrik Kniberg wrote two interesting articles: “What is an Agile Project Leader” and it’s follow-up “What is an Agile Leader“. The latter contained a description of the characteristics and responsibilities of an Agile Leader. I found it a useful source of inspiration whenever such a role becomes relevant. And given my role as an Agile Coach, that’s quite often… For example in situations where they consider the roles of an Agile Project Manager, Chief Scrum Master, Release Train Engineer etc. Therefore I’ve taken the characteristics of the original article and listed them in a separate blog post, it creates a nice overview of an Agile Leader.

Please check the original articles for the full context, background and description of an Agile Leader.

The MVP for an Agile Leader:

  1. Be passionate about the product, customers, users, and business impact.
  2. Be excited about the Agile Leader role and willing to focus on it 100%
  3. Buy into most of the role description above, and want to grow in that direction.
  4. Have at least some real-life leadership experience (in any context)
  5. Have at least some real-life experience with agile ways of working (in any role)
  6. Be willing to get training/coaching/mentoring for the skills that are weak or missing
  7. Be willing spend time learning and continuously improving their skills as agile leader.

An Awesome Agile Leader…

  • Is business-minded and passionate about getting people aligned towards a common goal.
  • Has experience managing large, cross-functional efforts (e.g. spanning functions such as engineering, marketing, content, legal, and others). Agile or not. Some of best leaders I’ve seen come from big failed projects – they know how not to run a project.
  • Is flexible and pragmatic about methods and processes, and are able to use your judgment to apply the model and approach that fit best with the context.
  • Has deep understanding and experience of agile and lean thinking, and some experience with concrete frameworks and techniques such as Scrum, Kanban, Lean Startup, and Continuous Delivery.
  • Stays clear of waterfall projects, but you also understand that Agile doesn’t mean No Planning or No Architecture.
  • Knows how to provide strong leadership and guidance, without become a bottleneck.
  • Knows how to get people inspired and rallied around a higher purpose.
  • Understands that people are people, not just resources, and that focus and motivation matter a lot more than man-hours.
  • Understands that people are most motivated and effective when given a problem to solve, rather than a solution to implement.
  • Knows how to get people talking with each other across departments and other organizational borders. You aren’t scared off by politics.
  • Knows how to enable self-organization in large cross-functional efforts, and how pull-based scheduling works in practice.
  • Knows how to make the important stuff visible.
  • Has a knack for spotting waste and calling it out.
  • Understands that plans are important, but they are a tool and not a goal, and must be updated as you learn.
  • Understands that uncertainty is a fact of life when innovating, and is best managed through a tight feedback loop rather than detailed upfront planning.
  • Holds people accountable for their behaviour more than their results. You reward people for learning rather than punishing them for failing.