Understanding “Agile” in the Context of Leadership!

The definition of “agile” from Wikipedia is:

Agile software development is a group of software development methods based on iterative and incremental development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams.

We will look at the elements of the above definition in the context of IT Maturity Method’s (ITMM) Leadership Improvement. ITMM Leadership Improvement is a Mechanistic view where only those Leadership principles that can be measured as parts of operating organizations are considered Leadership. For, without an organization there cannot be a leader. Other supposed leadership principles, such as motivational skills become ‘personal skills’.  This takes leadership outside the bias of psychological analysis and into the analysis of interactions of intelligent entities within larger environments.

Within ITMM Leadership Improvement there are five categories of leadership principles: management, organization, extent, culture, and vision. To understand ‘Agile’ we need only look at two specific leadership principles. in particular we look are the extent principle of ‘incremental’ and the organization principle of ‘communication’. According to ITMM Leadership Improvement, in order to have a mature organization, all leadership principles need to be defined, tracked and measured, and tuned and advanced.

When looking at ‘agile’ in this larger context, the first realization is that ‘agile’ can be applied to any endeavor not just software.  In other words, ‘agile’ should be considered a general leadership practice not just a software practice.

Extent principles include: lightweight, depth, incremental, and scope. As mentioned, all activities of an enterprise should be measured and tracked from the perspective of all of these principles. From the perspective of the incremental leadership principle, the question is whether, activities are being done with an appropriate number of increments.

Common increments include hot fixes, service packs, minor version upgrades, and major version upgrades for software. Similarly, increments are done for physical products also. Car manufacturers update parts for vehicles within model years, make model releases every year, and every four or so years, make major upgrades to models. Smaller activities within organizations also have increments, whether daily or weekly schedules are used to do the tracking, or milestones and deliverables are the measures.

Measurement of schedules, milestones and deliverables are common and fit in the ITMM Leadership Improvement category of ‘management’ leadership principles. ITMM Leadership Improvement goes beyond these principles and asks organizations to measure and track whether the correct number of increments are being done for activities. Other extent principles such as whether activities are lightweight, whether work is being done to an appropriate depth, and whether the scope is correct are likewise tracked and measured.

Well understood activities can have larger increments. This is because mechanisms for describing requirements have already been worked out, and once the requirements are created there is little change.

For activities that are less well understood, methods of creating fixed requirements are less well known. For such activities, usually there is great uncertainty in what is being required or desired. Only as that activity advances are the requirements, and design created. In these situations, many more increments are needed, leading to the need for ‘agile’ activities.

ITMM Leadership Improvement likewise requires organizations to track and measure organizational leadership principles such as escalation, delegation, enablement, communication, and context. For each activity, the questions are whether appropriate escalation, delegation, enablement, and communication being done. Additionally, is the organization tracking whether all team members understand the context they are working in?

The Leadership principle of ‘communication’ particularly lines up with the principle of ‘collaboration’ mentioned in the definition of ‘agile’ above. When doing a measure on whether proper communication is happening, questions to ask are whether the parties with knowledge are brought in to contribute at the right time and in the right way. Are team members waiting for information too long? Do team members know who to communicate to for specific activities? When communication happens, is it done in an appropriate fashion?

Some information can be one way with review of data and associated input being entered in process flow sites or via emails.  Other communication needs to be two way or collaborative, with significant data and context being transferred back and forth between different team members, usually requiring phone or face to face interaction. Organizations need to understand and track whether communication is at the correct level and being done in the right way for all activities.

In summary, from the ITMM Leadership Improvement perspective, ‘agile’ is but a small slice in the larger picture of defining, tracking and measuring, and tuning and advancing leadership principles as opposed to being a separate software development practice.