Patrick Wilson Welsh blogged a while back about the role of the agile leader and I think he is pretty bang on. He outlines four qualities or tools an agile leader needs to be successful in an environment where the old maxims of project management, or management in general, or even technical leadership doesn’t cut it anymore. The tools are:
<ol><li>Continous team building</li><li>Continous planning</li><li>Continous unblocking
</li><li>Continous improvement (which in the lean tradition is also known as Kaizen).</li></ol>The importance of each one varies with the environment in which a team operates, but all are necessary. And one of the key things a lot of organisations doesn’t seem to understand is that building a team isn’t about creating a team that works well with a benevolent dictator keeping a watchful eye on them at all times, but rather creating teams that to almost no degree needs a “boss” at all. This is a team where continous self-improvement for the individuals and the team as a whole isn’t something mysterious regarding japanese logographics, but rather routine. The thing a team really needs help with is unblocking. This must be done by someone who shouldn’t write code at the same time. I’ve tried that model and it sucks royally. 

But how do we create or foster leaders like this? There are several things we need. We need whole organisations that are willing and easy to change. No small feat. Is this best achieved from the bottom up or top down? The lean/toyota philosophy dictates bottom up or rather at all levels in the organisation and that all levels are of equal importance. A common trait in companies and organisations is that rigidity comes with size. And a rigid already established company is even harder to change that creating lean smaller companies.

A team with such a leader wouldn’t function very well in an old-school environment, and they must go hand in hand. Educational institutions must somehow adress these challenges in the future as they’re at least not in Norway even adressing agile methodologies properly. They’re way behind the curve as it is. And methodologies aren’t enough as Abby Fichtner wrote in a blog post which was a precursor to Patrick’s. Some of these values or tools mentioned by Abby and Patrick are mentioned in several methodologies but perhaps not the continous part in all settings. And do you really need a full blown methodology that dishes out all this and gives you a certification for just showing up at a course? I don’t think so.

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30 September 2009