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Becoming Agile Ready Leaders

By Jay Anderson and Russ White

Yeah, we've heard it too. The term "Agile" has been coming up a lot lately. Maybe you've been hearing it too and it has you thinking, "What is up with all of the Agile talk?" Perhaps your software development teams are using Agile. You may have even been to a sprint review or two.

We believe that Agile techniques are powerful and they can be applied to a wide array of business processes and disciplines. The goal of this blog series it to introduce you to the four basic tenets of Agile methodology and then build upon them to guide you to a comprehensive understanding of what it takes to lead an Agile organization. We want you to become Agile Ready LeadersSM!

We often hear non-technical folks who have been wondering if/how Agile could work in their own team. But before we answer that question, let's take a quick look at where it all came from.

What is “Agile”?

The word "Agile" is an umbrella term that grew out of manufacturing and logistics disciplines. Simply put, Agile is an approach to solving problems. The term has been made very popular in the software industry. But, in fact, it didn't come from the software industry.

The history of Agile can be traced back to the days of the Toyota Production System, invented by Japanese industrial engineers between 1948 and 1975. This, of course, was originally called "just-in-time production." This production system gave rise to a strategy for defining and deploying business processes in a flow, driven in response to customer demand—known as Demand Flow Technology (DFT).

Fast-forward to 2001. In 2001 a few smart guys realized that the software industry was in big trouble. At that time, software development was a pre-defined engineering process. These guys not only saw danger in this approach—they wanted to turn it on its head. So they pulled together folks from all types and methods of software development with the intention of debunking the theory altogether.

At the end of a few days, this unlikely group reshaped the way we think about software development. Thanks to them, we no longer think of software development as a documentation-driven, heavyweight coding process. Instead, like DFT, Agile responds to customer needs. And what's the best way to know if the customer's needs were met? To do the work in shorter increments, give it to customers as soon as it's developed, and ask them what they think of it.

How does an organization become Agile?

Agile-Ready LeadersOk, ok, we did promise to answer that question. The good news is that, because the Agile process is all based in production system theory, the benefits from "agility" can be applied to pretty much any set of work processes.

Let's start with this: to declare agility, you must follow four basic tenets:

  1. Be Kind
  2. Be Honest
  3. Work in Small Increments
  4. Be Responsible

Sounds easy, right? Maybe it does. Experience has proven that these four little things are not as simple as they sound.Putting them into practice requires a conscious, disciplined effort. The good news? We are here to help! Through this blog series, we will discuss various work processes and people (interaction) principles that will be essential to your Agile success.

We hope that some of your basic questions about the origins of Agile have been answered and that we’ve built a foundation to start exploring what it means to be Agile Ready LeadersSM. Now we want to hear from you: What do you want to know? What will it take for you to try Agile? Tweet to us using #AgileReadyLeaders and we will answer your questions in our upcoming posts. Stay tuned!

This is the first blog in a series on Agile leadership. Read more from the series:
Part 2: Agile Ready Leaders Get Their Start in Kindergarten

Part 3: Hairballs and HiPPOs - Agile's Biggest Derailers
Part 4: Keep Your Hands and Feet Inside the Vehicle
Part 5: Agile Leadership: This is Going to Hurt

Jay AndersonJay Anderson is passionate about helping people work in teams that solve complex problems. Over the past five years, he has been leading the transformation of the technology department at DDI through the application of multiple Agile methods.


Russ WhiteRuss White is Vice President of Technology Strategy in DDI’s Global Technology Group. He and his team are experts at applying Agile management techniques to a wide range of business environments beyond software development.

Posted: 09 Nov, 2016,
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