Lean-Agile Leadership – Empowering Teams to Achieve the Unexpected

Lean-Agile Leadership - Empowering Teams to Achieve the Unexpected - banner

Take a good, hard look at the image below and let us know if any of the following concepts come to mind; "agile", "lean", "flexibility", "collaboration".

Lean-Agile Leadership - Empowering Teams to Achieve the Unexpected - old picture of rows and rows of desks in big hall early 20th century

Image Source: Electronic Engineering Journal

No? We didn’t think so.

The concepts that today’s most successful and efficient teams put into practice are worlds apart from their predecessors decades earlier. "Back in the day", teams and their leaders worked within a very top-down model. Traditional leadership models tended to be more paternal and autocratic. The boss and a small handful of managers said "this is going to be the way it is" and, well, that’s just the way it was. End of story.

Fast Forward to Present Day

If any of the following phrases are in your company’s lexicon - "cubicle farm", "interwebs", "nine-to-five work day", or "circle the wagons" - we should talk. The 1980s faxed and they’d like their workplace back.

Now, let’s shift gears and consider the tasks of a present-day Agile Leader:

  • Lead the Change
  • Lifelong Learning
  • Develop Your Employees
  • Inspire, Unite and Empower
  • Decentralize Decisions
  • Unleash Intrinsic Motivation

If these concepts sound more familiar to you, we congratulate you! Your professional career either started closer to the late 90s or it began earlier, but you’ve successfully transitioned to the concepts of Lean-Agile. Whichever the case, we’re glad you’re here reading along.

"In building a statue, a sculptor doesn’t keep adding clay to his subject. Actually, he keeps chiseling away at the inessentials until the truth of its creation is revealed without obstructions."
- Bruce Lee -

Developed in the late 1990s as an offshoot of the lean manufacturing processes, which was adapted from the Toyota Production System, the basic premise consists of increasing value and efficiency by reducing or eliminating waste. Boom, in a nutshell, that’s it. Compared to the traditional waterfall method where a definitive plan is developed and laid by a project manager, Lean-Agile works to reduce or eliminate any tasks that don’t provide true value.

SAFe® House of Lean

Finding its roots in Lean manufacturing processes and retooling them for product and software development (DevOps), Lean-Agile practices can then be extended at the enterprise level with Scaled Agile for Enterprise (SAFe®) which rests upon four pillars; Respect for people and culture, Flow, Innovation, and Relentless improvement.

Lean-Agile Leadership - Empowering Teams to Achieve the Unexpected - the SAFe house of lean

Image Source: "Lean-Agile Mindset." n.d. Scaled Agile Framework. https://www.scaledagileframework.com/lean-agile-mindset/

Image Source: "Lean-Agile Mindset." n.d. Scaled Agile Framework. https://www.scaledagileframework.com/lean-agile-mindset/

Specifically, in terms of leadership, let’s revisit and expand upon the tasks of an Agile Leader identified earlier here. You’ll see as we move through the list, that one builds upon the other.

Lead the change. The example needs to be set by those in management roles. The commitment, pace, and intention; all must spring from the actions and examples of those identified as the leaders.

Life-long learning. Be the sponge in your organization soaking up every bit of knowledge you can. Not to be understood as simply within the realm of the latest in Lean-Agile practices, but rather a multidisciplinary approach to learning in general. And to paraphrase the adage, don’t just give your staff the fish, teach them how to fish. Encouraging and exemplifying an attitude of continuous learning is crucial to your personal growth, as well as that of your coworkers and the organization as a whole.

Develop your employees. There needs to be a commitment to provide the best tools, training, and resources available, keeping your staff at the forefront of available technology. And it’s not just providing the tools, your employees must also be given the opportunity to learn how to use them proficiently, either on their own or through comprehensive training.

Inspire, unite and empower. Just as a parent wants to provide their children with opportunities they themselves may not have had earlier in life, a true leader in today’s workplace seeks to give his or her employees opportunities to achieve more than they themselves could have imagined. Inspire your staff with your actions, unite them in a common set of goals, and empower them by removing restrictive processes and barriers to success.

Decentralize decisions. Not every single decision can be made centrally within an organization. However, having led the change, encouraging lifelong learning, developing your staff, and inspiring and empowering them, it is at this point a leader can feel quite confident the groundwork has been laid that many decisions can now be made very successfully outside a center of influence. Of course, decisions need to be made by those with the requisite relevant expertise. To read further, feel free to check out our blog article "Decentralized Decision-Making with Agile Hive – Empower Everyone To Be a Leader!"

Unleash intrinsic motivation. The title alone gets to the core of this Agile leadership task. In short, you can show them the way but you can’t walk the journey for them. Remove the issues holding your employees back, teach and empower them, and then get out of the way and let them do their thing.

It’s important to note if it isn’t already evident to this point, that this transition of management styles benefits not just the teams but also the managers themselves. How so? Adopting the Lean-Agile style of leadership provides a number of rewards such as increased efficiencies, greater levels of engagement or "buy-in" from their staff, an overall reduction in workload for the managers themselves, increased levels of motivation among staff, and quicker decision-making to name a few.

Agile Hive As Your Guide

Up to this point, we’ve heard a great deal about theory, practices, and concepts that lay the groundwork for the Lean-Agile style of leadership. All wonderful, but now as the leader amidst a SAFe® transformation, you need to make it happen.

Lean-Agile Leadership - Empowering Teams to Achieve the Unexpected - graph that shows what Agile Hive can help with during agile transformation

With proper planning, SAFe® allows every organization to uniquely implement and configure a combination of Agile, Lean and DevOps framework benefits. The Agile Release Train, or ART, sets and keeps the wheels in motion throughout the following process - defining, building, validating, releasing, and repeating as necessary. Sounds like a tool that enables innovation and relentless improvement is called for, yes? You’re such a Lean-Agile leader for making that connection!

As we know, Jira is one of the best-known and widely used tools for agile project management as well as issue tracking. In Jira, teams can plan and track their work with Scrum and Kanban boards. When moving to the large organizational scale, enterprises that use SAFe® depend upon a defined hierarchical context to ensure alignment throughout the organization from start to finish. Agile Hive solves this issue all while ensuring SAFe® compliance. So you as the leader have your needs met, and your teams have the freedom they need to put the wheels in motion.

All SAFe® criteria, regardless of level - portfolio, large solutions, ARTs, and teams - come as Jira projects within Agile Hive. Admins can then choose unique names for these projects and adjust workflows and schemes if necessary, making it highly flexible while not affecting Jira projects outside of the SAFe® environment. Decentralizing decisions and unleashing that intrinsic motivation within your teams, are you? We knew you had it in you.

Agile-Lean Leader Meet PI Planning Done Right

With Agile Hive, you can ensure your Program Increment (PI) is a success. Additionally, in remote planning within Confluence, everything from spaces, pages, and templates are integrated to help support you in the process.

Team Context and Team Breakouts are also made available. Lest we say it, you can inspire, unite and empower your colleagues to help them help themselves by giving them the tools and documentation necessary. Stop us if you’ve heard this somewhere before.

The Team Breakout view has been designed to coordinate the back-and-forth conversations between team members and between teams. The Breakout Board has many features and helps to simplify breakout sessions in the PI Planning. Each team estimates its capacity, plans its iterations and breaks down the Features into individual User Stories by either creating new ones or via "drag & dropping" existing ones from the team backlog.

Lean-Agile Leadership - Empowering Teams to Achieve the Unexpected - Team Breakouts board

With Agile Hive, you’ll have the tools to create, manage, and visualize PIs, iterations, work items, capacities, and dependencies and keep track of value delivery – all that with maximum simplicity. If it was possible to check more boxes in the Lean-Agile Leader checklist, we’d be surprised.

A Leader’s Work Is Never Done

For those whose hearts and minds are truly in the day-to-day throws of leadership here in the age of Lean-Agile, there comes a wonderful level of satisfaction knowing you’ve put the pieces in place, and now the machine you’ve built is running primarily all on its own. Returning to the example of the child-parent relationship, your kids have taken what you’ve offered to teach them and essentially moved from crawling to walking, then running in the blink of an eye!

However, the work is never truly done. With each iteration of your product or service, you are refining, improving, moving beyond what you thought possible back at square one. To learn more about the role of Leadership in a Lean-Agile environment, visit the folks at the Agile Academy or continue reading about the Scaled-Agile mindset.

If you’re interested in learning more about Agile Hive, let us walk you through this one-of-a-kind relationship between SAFe®, Atlassian, and Agile Hive. If you are interested in learning more about Agile Hive, please contact us. We’d be happy to get you started!


Further Reading