Agile software development has been a prized practice for maximizing the efficiency and output of teams for nearly two decades. The specific tenets of agile development – close communication, frequent product upgrades, and inherent trust in employees – have since been extended into agile business leadership.
While agile leadership has been adopted in organizations ranging from startups to Fortune 100 companies, the past 18 months have placed more pressure on companies to maintain agility and react to changes than ever before.
Agile leadership has taken on an entirely new definition in the post-COVID business environment. While co-location was a key tenet of agile software development, distributed teams are now the norm. And with new emerging self-service technologies and workflows that empower business users to own their own automation projects, modern enterprises must be able to go with the flow and make rapid adjustments to stay ahead of the competition.
[ Want Agile and DevOps best practices? Watch the on-demand webinar: Lessons from The Phoenix project you can use today. ]
Here are four of the most up-to-date imperatives for agile leadership:
1. Foster an environment for change and innovation
What does company culture mean when your employees are all working from home? How can you encourage open communication when that communication is primarily taking place via video conferencing and messaging apps and email?
Agile leadership has always depended on close contact and open lines of communication, and today’s business environments require an extra level of planning and effort to ensure that employees know that their opinions are valued. Regardless of your company’s current work environment and which platforms you use to communicate, go the extra mile to encourage your employees to share their experiences and ideas. No executive has all the answers, and your employees are the ones on the ground dealing directly with the company’s challenges.
2. Embrace constant feedback
Daily standup meetings have always been a hallmark of agile development and leadership. However, as these practices evolve, enterprises are depending more and more on feedback to refine their processes and improve business outcomes. Beyond 15-minute standups at the start of each morning, many enterprises are scheduling additional check-ins with smaller sub-teams and critical team leaders as a means of quickly identifying bottlenecks and making faster decisions.
At the beginning, these regular feedback loops may feel uncomfortable or overwhelming, but as they become part of your company’s routine, they will demonstrate their value as your work becomes streamlined and your teams are able to focus on proactive improvements rather than reactive fixes.
[ Need to explain key Agile and DevOps terms to others? Get our cheat sheet: DevOps Glossary. ]
3. Adjust your leadership style to each situation
True agility means not only creating feedback loops, but making regular adjustments based on the collected information. For businesses across multiple industries, no one leadership approach will be the right fit for all situations. Using the feedback from daily standups and small group meetings, adjust the tone and approach of your leadership to offer your employees the exact type of support they need.
Few situations require a heavy hand and micromanagement, but some situations also cannot be managed sufficiently from the rear. Take into consideration the task at hand, timeline, and personnel, and adapt your technique accordingly.
4. Develop adaptive road maps
A common misconception with agile management is that all rigid long-term plans are abandoned in favor of short-term goals and realignments. While agility does lead teams to adjust their plans more frequently, it should not mean a complete absence of planning.
The ideal strategy for agile leadership is an adaptive roadmap: With the destination and the general direction clear, the team is able to choose the individual turns and approaches according to the tools, personnel, and surrounding environment. A rigid, unchangeable roadmap will lead to slower results and diminished ROI; an adaptive road map keeps performance on track while allowing for some valuable shortcuts.
The broad principles of agile leadership are clearly here to stay, but don’t be surprised if the individual tenets of this practice continue to evolve in the coming years. No team can succeed without constant reflection and adjustment; likewise, a leadership strategy will be effective only if it is able to adapt to the times with new tools and techniques.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]
What to read next
Subscribe to our newsletter.
Keep up with the latest advice and insights from CIOs and IT leaders.