Employing Leadership techniques on Agile Projects
Technorati Link

Mining leadership techniques for additional tools for use on agile projects

Given the close correlation between leadership best practice and agile project management, it is useful to search leadership techniques for additional approaches that could also assist on agile projects. (Un)fortunately there is no standard Leadership Body of Knowledge, instead there is a plethora of overlapping, but thankfully aligned practices.

James Kouzes describes Five Practices and Ten Commitments of Leadership –

  1. Model the Way
     a. Find your voice by clarifying your personal values
     b. Set an example by aligning actions with shared values
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision
     a. Envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities
     b. Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations
  3. Challenge the Process
     a. Search for opportunities by seeking innovative ways to change, grow and improve
     b. Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from mistakes
  4. Enable Others to Act
     a. Foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust
     b. Strengthen others by sharing power and discretion
  5. Encourage the Heart
     a. Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for excellence
     b. Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community

This list is very similar to Pinto’s effective Leadership Behaviours, but adds some useful “how to” guidance.

The importance of Modelling the Way
From Posner’s “Model the Way” practice and Pinto’s “Modeling the desired behaviour” recommendation it is clear that this is an important role. As leaders of agile teams it is natural to try and exhibit the behaviours that we wish team members to emulate. However, agile methods tend to underplay this critical role.

“Emotion precedes thought and action” which means that we will not effectively follow people that we do not trust. So if a team member sees evidence of duplicity, perhaps a project manager padding estimates for the business to create a refactoring buffer, then this mistrust will be transferred to other communications from the project manager. Trust, integrity, humility, and a desire for the true picture, even if grim, are attributes that must be instilled in leaders to build effective teams.

The need to re-communicate the vision
While it is important to create a common vision, the need to constantly re-communicate this vision and check for comprehension throughout the project is paramount. People get caught up in details, tangents and changes can disturb the project's “compass”. Stakeholders and team members may change and people just sometimes forget the true goals of an endeavour.

Vision should be reiterated frequently, preferably using new analogies and metaphors. Sports analogies are often over used and poorly understood and therefore should be used with caution. Having created a compelling vision during a kick-off meeting, work with the team to generate Elevator Pitches, Overviews for the Steering Committee, and Quick Starts for new stakeholders. By engaging the team this way, leaders can get a true measure of team understanding and generate a variety of valuable new ways of describing the project.

Recently a development team at a product development company generated the following elevator pitch to describe their view of the project. “To create a flexible reporting engine that links both Sales and Production data, the “AceReports Project” is replacing the existing static reports with a new user defined report system, that allows custom reports to pull data from across the company.” While not the snappiest of pitches, it is reassuring as a leader to confirm the team has a similar view of the goals as the project manager.

Celebrating Success
Morale and enthusiasm fuel team commitment and work rates and need to be renewed by recognition, thanks and understanding. Teams that are continually pushed for results without recognition will burn-out, lose members and drop in productivity.

Before looking at new processes or tools to improve productivity, we should not forget people. People are the most influential factor in the people/process/tools triad of productivity factors. As Posner suggests, by the regular celebration of values and victories we can renew the commitment and enthusiasm of the team. Agile project managers should schedule and budget for celebrations at regular intervals throughout the project. An afternoon out, or $100 gift certificate is cost effective preventative medicine, compared to the possible costs of overtime and recruiting expenses associated with a tired, sick team. So in a moment when you have finished reading this post, go and say “Thank You” to the team member who deserves it, but you have not had the opportunity to thank yet. It could be the most effective use of your time today!

Agile project management diverges from the task scheduling focussed guidelines of traditional project management. However, it is closely aligned with Leadership best practice that already has a people focus. So, when looking for a common thread to promote agile methods, or a source of guidance for agile project management, move past the traditional project management books onto the Leadership guides where there is a fertile source of complementary information.


The comments to this entry are closed.