The Trinity of Agile Leadership

No mat­ter what you might think of Scrum, the Scrum Guide beau­ti­ful­ly describes three aspects of lead­er­ship in the con­text of agile prod­uct devel­op­ment. At the cen­ter of val­ue cre­ation is the devel­op­ment team, which works autonomous­ly and self-orga­niz­ing. As the CEO” of the prod­uct, the Prod­uct Own­er leads the prod­uct and thus gives the auton­o­my a com­mon vision and direc­tion. And final­ly there is the Scrum Mas­ter, who serves the peo­ple and helps the prod­uct own­er, the devel­op­ment team and the rest of the orga­ni­za­tion to work togeth­er effec­tive­ly. A tra­di­tion­al man­ag­er is not described there, because his dif­fer­ent tasks are dis­trib­uted among these roles.

Self-organization and Autonomy

Dis­ci­pline is achieved through self-orga­ni­za­tion and per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty, by dis­ci­plin­ing one only gets obedience.

Ger­ald Hüther

Val­ue cre­ation in agile orga­ni­za­tions takes place in autonomous teams. This self-orga­ni­za­tion is not an inven­tion of Scrum, but an essen­tial prin­ci­ple behind the Agile Man­i­festo and ulti­mate­ly the result of apply­ing the Lean Prin­ci­ples to the process of soft­ware devel­op­ment. In fact, self-orga­ni­za­tion as an essen­tial char­ac­ter­is­tic of effec­tive prod­uct devel­op­ment teams is much old­er than the Agile Man­i­festo of 2001 and is not lim­it­ed to soft­ware devel­op­ment at all. Back in 1986, Hiro­ta­ka Takeuchi and Iku­jiro Non­a­ka, described in their arti­cle “The New Prod­uct Devel­op­ment Game”, self-orga­ni­za­tion as one of six char­ac­ter­is­tics of the team they stud­ied, which devel­oped prod­ucts such as copiers, cam­eras or even a car unusu­al­ly quick­ly and effectively.

Vision and Alignment

The temp­ta­tion to lead as a chess mas­ter, con­trol­ling each move of the orga­ni­za­tion, must give way to an approach as a gar­den­er, enabling rather than directing.

Stan­ley McChrystal

Auton­o­my requires align­ment. The more self-orga­ni­za­tion there is, the stronger the ori­en­ta­tion towards the com­mon vision must be. This ori­en­ta­tion is an essen­tial lead­er­ship task in agile orga­ni­za­tions and is there­fore explic­it­ly reflect­ed in Scrum by the role of the Prod­uct Own­er as “CEO” of the prod­uct. Auton­o­my and ori­en­ta­tion do not exclude each oth­er, but com­ple­ment each oth­er as long as one leads with pur­pose and trust rather than with com­mand and con­trol, as Hen­rik Kniberg beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trates in this picture.

Individuals and Interactions

Lead­ing means: serv­ing life, elic­it­ing life in peo­ple, awak­en­ing life in employees.

Anselm Grün

In addi­tion to the focus on a com­mon vision, lead­er­ship always has a human and sys­temic dimen­sion. This aspect of lead­er­ship helps to cre­ate an envi­ron­ment in which peo­ple can devel­op their full poten­tial and in which good coop­er­a­tion is pos­si­ble. This lead­er­ship there­fore pri­mar­i­ly serves the human being and acts like a gar­den­er try­ing to pro­vide a fer­tile ground on which good results can grow. Exact­ly for this pur­pose there is the role of the Scrum Mas­ter, which is often under­es­ti­mat­ed and mis­un­der­stood, but which actu­al­ly describes this human and sys­temic lead­er­ship role in agile organizations.

Do We Need a Boss?

This trin­i­ty of agile lead­er­ship con­sist­ing of self-orga­ni­za­tion, ori­en­ta­tion and ser­vant human lead­er­ship is all inter­min­gled in tra­di­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions in the one role of the man­ag­er. Depend­ing on per­son­al incli­na­tion and con­crete sit­u­a­tion, some aspects are overem­pha­sized and oth­ers neglect­ed. An essen­tial con­tri­bu­tion of Scrum is there­fore a clear dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of lead­er­ship through the strict sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers between the roles Prod­uct Own­er, Devel­op­ment Team and Scrum Master.

You man­age things; you lead people.

Grace Hop­per

The more rig­or­ous­ly agile orga­ni­za­tions imple­ment this sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers at all lev­els, the less this tra­di­tion­al type of man­ag­er is need­ed. And per­haps that’s why the imple­men­ta­tion of the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers and thus the abo­li­tion of this tra­di­tion­al man­age­r­i­al role, in which every­thing is mixed up, is a good yard­stick for the shift of an orga­ni­za­tion towards more agility. 

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