Review The Professional Agile Leader

The professional agile leader – The leader’s journey toward growing mature agile teams and organizations by Ron Eringa, Kurt Bittner and Laurens Bonnema provides a detailed understanding of the leader’s role in an agile transformation.

When talking about reasons why so many agile transformations fail, I often show a picture of two rhinos colliding, and saying that this is the reason why. Next, I add two text boxes over the rhinos with company culture and agile culture. I can now refer to this book if you want an in-depth explanation of this clash.

The book is divided in eight chapters. the first chapter zooms in on the situation where you see yourself as an organization being overtaken by competitors. You may be very efficient but too unwieldy to respond quickly to the many changes that come your way. One solution is to take over another company that is already much more agile. This is also the case in the book where Reliable Energy takes over Energy Bridge and we follow the CEO who wants to make her organization more agile.

The second chapter shows what it means to form empowering cross-functional teams who discovered their purpose and the role of the leader. Key is that the teams must form themselves and that this takes time.

In the third chapter the emphasis is on the impact. Forget output but focus on the impact by framing goals in terms of customer outcomes instead of things that are produces. From plan-driven goals to goal-driven planning (tactical – intermediate – strategic goals).

Chapter four shows how teams and their leaders are changing by becoming more feedback driven. This is all about decision latency, levels of delegation, decentralized decision-making, and intrinsic motivation.

In chapter five we see the issues leaders are facing when they are halfway their agile transformation. This refers back to the clash between the rhinos at the start of this review. The original way of working with checks and balances versus the agile mind mindset and what that means to the people involved. Self-managing teams require leaders with a catalytic leadership style (collective focus: sharing, enabling, diversity, acceptance and supportive).

Chapter six shows that in an agile organization less and less hierarchical leaders are needed but all the more agile leaders. Where leadership should be seen as an activity and not a role. How to grow new leaders, how to grow mature teams and to escape the silos by breaking them down.

In chapter seven the authors explain that Kotter’s dual operating system cannot be used for ever. At a certain point you must decide to fully go for the agile way otherwise you will fall back to the old ways of working. I am not sure if this is what Kotter has in mind with his dual operating system.

The final chapter puts the agile culture in the spotlights. The social behavior and norms that people in the organization exhibit, including their beliefs and habits. Without this agile culture your agile transformation will fail and be aware this transformation will never end.

Conclusion

a compact and easy to read book that explains the role of a leader in an agile transformation in a clear, straightforward, and practical way. the case used of a merger of two companies as a common thread makes very clear the issues and friction a leader faces in an agile transformation.

I missed the agile leader’s role in sharing knowledge and lessons learnt by setting up communities of practice (CoPs), chapters, guilds et cetera. The issues and what to do about them when multiple teams are necessary to work on a single product are presented very simplistically but this is probably beyond the scope of this book.

In my opinion an absolute must read if you are in the middle of or want to start an agile transformation.

To order: The Professional Agile Leader: managementboek.nlbol.com

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