Agile has been around for quite some time now. The big dogs, Scrum, Kanban, and Extreme Programming have been around since the late ’90s, almost 30 years! Wow, how time flies.

I’ve been teaching classes on Agile since 2010, just a little over 10 years. Early on, it was really just a Scrum class, but over the years it has evolved to include Scrum@Scale, Agile Coaching, Jira, Product Thinking, Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and a whole host of certification classes, etc. depending on what is best for the organization.

Most of the time when I teach classes it’s for a company that’s already started their Agile journey, at least that is what they say. So going into each class I have some assumptions, primarily that management has a basic understanding of Agile and understands their role in the transition. I also assume that the teams have some rudimentary understanding of the basic principles of Agile.

However, during the classes, I typically hear these kinds of comments/questions:

  • Our Scrum Master is on at least 5 other projects.
  • We don’t have a Product Owner.
  • We have to track our time on every story, how do we do that in Jira?
  • We spend about 3 months creating a requirements document. Why do we need a Product Backlog?
  • QA is on a different team.
  • Management won’t let us add new stories until it goes to the change review board.
  • We have a ton of Product Support and interrupt work
  • Priorities are constantly changing

How can we avoid this? Or, how can we course correct? The magic ingredient is to create Agile leaders FIRST.  The best way to kill an Agile transition is to ignore the role management must play.

Now, this isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. I’m not saying “every manager must become an Agile leader in this entire organization before we start working with the teams”. Heaven forbid. We need to approach the Agile transition in an agile way of course! For example, if a specific division has chosen to start the journey, let’s begin by having some workshops and coaching with management in that division first, then we will weave in the teams. If you start with the teams while ignoring management, and tell the teams to “go forth and be agile”, management will not understand their role and will unintentionally become impediments. That’s where we get all the “Agile Sucks!” rants online.

Now, if a company approaches me for training, I almost always start with a Scrum@Scale Practitioner course (even if the organization is not ready to scale).  Leaders learn how to build a Minimal Viable Beuracracy (MVB) to help reduce decision latency, established a MetaSCrum forum, and understand how heat maps can be used to drive effective change.

  1. Start with Leaders and Managers
  2. Build a Minimal Viable Beauracry
  3. Build an Agile Leadership Mindset
  4. Trust the teams

So, what do you think? Should we start with creating agile leaders first or is it okay just to train the teams, ignore management and call it a day? I’d love to hear your thoughts!