Hitting the Apex of Agile Transformation Turns & Twists

April 16, 2010 CollabNet VersionOne

Ask any professional driver the key to being fast and agile on the track.  You can be sure that near or at the top of this list will be “Keep your head up and eyes looking as far forward toward the next turn as possible”.

Doing this allows a driver to not only drive the optimum (fastest) line through the next turn, but to also set themselves up for the following turn.  Driving the right line through a turn is often described as hitting the apex.

It is amazing to how many different sports and activities, beyond motor sports, that this concept applies.  This even includes business and agile development transformations.

When driving on the track, the surest way to not hit the apex of an upcoming turn is to look right in front of you or at the apex itself.  Looking directly in front of you causes everything to happen way too fast. It generally causes hesitation even in experienced track drivers, and outright panic in novice track drivers.  The results can be upsetting and costly.

In a software / systems development organization that has undertaken the journey of agile adoption, its leadership must keep their heads up and their eyes beyond the current iteration.  By doing so they will much more likely lead their teams through the journey hitting the apexes of each of the turns and twists ahead and successfully completing the journey.

As a leader in an agile environment, having one’s head up and eyes forward equates to keeping an eye on the organizational strategy, structure, and culture,  the competitive market, technology, the economy, and of course impediments reported by her team(s).   Based on the patterns emerging from analysis of all the information, agile leaders will set their teams up for a smooth next turn.  They do so by being proactive in ensuring a clear vision continues to be in place, that priorities continue to be clear, and where possible, organizational impediments are removed before the team encounters them.

A good example of this that I experienced not too long ago was when I was a Director of Application Development at a large Internet company.  There were many rumors that this company was headed for a major reorganization by its parent company.  Keeping his head up and eyes toward he next turn, the VP/ GM, working with his reports, began reworking his unit’s strategy  / vision, scaling it back considerably based on the possible coming re-org scenarios.  When the reorganization did occur, his team quickly had a revised vision and set of priorities, scaled back from the original, but ones that the team could clearly engage on and successfully deliver in a climate of confusion and disarray.

Had this agile leader been focused only on the next turn – the reorganization from his perspective – the team would have frozen, crashed and burned as others in the larger organization did.   Instead, the team kept to their agile discipline and continued delivering value.

Successful leaders in an agile organization are not caught up micro-managing the goings-on of the current iteration. They ensure that their team(s) understand the journey they are on, and that they will be best situated for delivering in the coming iteration.  The agile team can and should self-manage the mechanics of successfully delivering for the current iteration.  This is only possible if the agile leaders have their heads up and their eyes focused as far as they can see toward the coming turn.

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