12 Qualities of a Good Agile Leader

How do you spot a good Agile leader?

Agile development methodology has been around for a number of years now and has become the norm for many tech companies. But why is it that some organizations really succeed in Agile, while others struggle? Even worse is when some teams think they are Agile because they practice agile concepts like daily stand-ups and retrospectives, but in reality are far from being Agile.

I believe the difference is all about the leaders, be it the ScrumMaster, Delivery Manager or the CTO who have the authority to lay the foundations of an Agile working culture in the organization and in this post we look at 12 qualities of a good Agile leader.

What are the qualities of a good Agile leader?

1. Vision and Mission

Everyone in the organization should know what they are working towards. It is often the case that individuals get too bogged down on the details of everyday work that they lose sight of the big picture.

A Good Agile Leader should ensure that the goals and mission of the organization is clear to everyone involved in the delivery of the project, this includes the scrum teams customers and stakeholders.

Ensure that any work being done has a clear purpose and is moving towards the vision. Likewise, it is important to set the boundaries and scope of the work so that the teams don’t do what is not necessary.

2. Small Releases

Ensure that work is divided in tasks and sub-tasks so that features can be released in an iterative and incremental fashion rather than big bang releases. Large projects should be split into smaller ones whenever possible.

In essence, this is the concept of an agile delivery model, iterative and incremental.

3. Pre-Planning Meetings

The agile leader should ensure that the items in the backlog are maintained and that planning sessions happen before the sprint kick-off. Ideally stories should be groomed and discussed one sprint ahead so that before the sprint starts, the planning session is quick.

Keep a track of the teams’ velocity so that scope of sprints can be forecasted. Any constraints or changes in priorities should be communicated to everyone.

4. Short Feedback Loop

Ensure a short feedback loop between development team, design, product and customers by engaging them in frequent communication. Work should be demoed and discussed early and continuously to remove any misunderstandings and assumptions.

Ensure that progress is based on actual value delivered for the business rather than comparing against a plan.

5. Continuous Improvement / Knowledge Sharing

Ensure that knowledge from different team members are shared across different parts of the organization and that small improvements to any process happens continuously. Retrospectives and “Scrum of Scrums” is usually a good opportunity to learn about the impediments and difficulties faced during the sprint so an action plan can be put together to address the obstacles.

Best Practices for Continuous Testing in Agile

6. Fail Fast

A good agile leader should ensure that teams have courage to try out new technologies and approaches. Create an environment where small failures can happen early and often, thereby reducing the risk of a big failure at the end of the project.

7. Communication

Create a friendly environment which facilitates good face-to-face communication and minimizes the need for unnecessary documents, emails, and other forms of low-bandwidth communication. For example, it is much more effective to have a physical kanban board where face-to-face discussions happen between the team members rather than Jira or similar tools.

8. Focus and Aligned

Ensure that the team is focused, dedicated and tuned to the work rather than multitasking. Everyone should be focused on working on the highest priority tasks that deliver value for the business. Work smarter not harder.

Work with managers to ensure that the right people and teams are available at the right time to maximize the velocity and chance of success.

9. Removal of Obstacles

In order for the team to deliver high quality product on time they need to be focused solely on the work and not having to deal with daily clutter or obstacles.

A good agile leader should ensure that impediments are removed as soon as possible when encountered, or even foresee the likelihood of an obstacle before it starts to impede the team.

Look for bottlenecks and queues, and apply systems thinking and lean principles to streamline the delivery of business value.

10. Visibility of Progress

Ensure that everyone in the business has clear visibility of the progress and that everyone can see the “big picture”. Can use dashboards on screens which clearly shows the progress at a high level and is visible at all times.

11. Self-organisation and Autonomy

Make the goal and current situation clear so that people can think and act autonomously, with no need for you to tell them what to do. Ensure people are given problems to solve rather than tasks to execute.

Remember that becoming a self-organizing team does not happen overnight. Self-organisation is not just about the whole team within its specific organizational context. Each team member needs to be self-organized.

12. Cross-functional Collaboration and Dependencies

A good Agile Leader should ensure that teams are not blocked waiting for each other to deliver their work and that teams are cross-functional by co-locating individuals across different teams and silos are minimized.