• Dr. Stefanie Puckett

What the values of the Agile Manifesto mean for leadership

Updated: May 10, 2020

In 2001, the Agile Software Development Manifesto (agilemanifesto.org) was created, which defines the common denominator of agile ways of working in software development. 17 well-known representatives of different agile software development methods such as Scrum or Extreme Programming, discussed how the individual agile methods can help to respond more flexibly to changing or evolving customer needs and at the same time to generate added value for customers in the shortest possible intervals. It elaborated four values that set the priority of agile working and twelve principles that continue to execute the essence of agile working.

How executives beyond software development can be inspired by the agile manifesto and develop a more agile leadership style and agile teams by applying the principles, Puckett and Neubauer (2018) describe in their book about agile leadership ("Agile Leadership - Leadership Competencies for the Agile Transformation", BusinessVillage).

1. People and interaction are more important than processes and tools.

Suppose you want to develop a new product, optimize a process, or change a service. The typical leader tends to invest a lot of time and energy in working out what he needs and how he can best succeed. The clever executive involves individual employees here and there in the planning. Agile managers are different. They bring together a team that is motivated for the task and -as far as possible- brings along all the competences the project needs. It defines the vision and describes the goal. They leave the rest to the team. The team now works out what can be done in what time frame, how they want to design their work, and what they need from the leader, colleagues or stakeholders.

2. Functioning software is more important than comprehensive documentation

The important thing is to create value for customers, through products that work. Therefore, priority is given to responding to customer needs and fast delivery of value-added products. What is not directly value-added, such as detailed documentation, needs to be eliminated.

Documentation is only useful if, for example, products are reproducible or standards are developed to facilitate coordination or prevent future mistakes. Because every documentation, protocol, plan, etc. that needs to be updated on a regular basis and in the worst case to be signed, eats time.

3. Cooperation with the customer is more important than contract negotiation

To stay one step ahead of your competitors, you need to better understand your customers and their challenges. The best solutions are usually achieved when customers are involved early in development. In order to identify changes in customer needs and proactively respond to them, the customer must also be regularly involved during the development process. Contracts are necessary, but must not paralyze the flexibility. Contract negotiations should not harm a cooperative climate and creative cooperation. Contracts should be designed openly that possibly resulting win-wins are promoted or at least approved.

4. Responding to change is more important than following a plan.

Trying to plan as accurately as possible and in the long-term binds energy. The degree of complexity and the speed of change have risen up to a level that plans can only be made for the next two years. Even if the environment is considered to be relatively stable, something may change in the customer's requirements, or it may only become clear as soon as the customer gets a better picture of partial deliveries. Responding flexibly instead of following plans helps to secure competitive advantages and in the end prevents solutions (according to plan) from being developed which are already obsolete or no longer needed. An iterative, step by step approach allows flexible response to changing circumstances or evolving customer needs. In order not to end up in an endless loop of trial and error, an incremental approach forces the focus on the regular benefit generation for the customer.

Planning is good, but at short notice. As long as you keep one goal in mind, it is enough to plan the next step. So, when planning the second step, you can include the current events as well as possible experiences that brought the first step. This is the only way to successfully navigate through increasing fast pace and complexity.

This article shares insights from Puckett & Neubauer (2018) and was published first in the metaBeratung GmbH Newsletter (March, 2019).

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