Effectively Measuring Agile Leadership | TechWell

Effectively Measuring Agile Leadership

Four quadrants of citrus fruit

When teams think about agile approaches to software development, someone usually brings up measurement. And the measures they’re talking about inevitably focus on their teams or delivery dynamics: How do we measure our teams? How do we measure the impact of agility? And how do we measure the value of a coach?

These are tough questions. But if you subscribe to the theory that leadership sets the culture and culture drives performance, then why aren’t we measuring leaders in agile contexts?

I was once leading a rather large team that was building a trading support system for large financial clients. The system was failing at our largest clients, and they escalated it to our CEO.

I pulled a team together in a conference room to analyze the possible fixes to this critical solution. As we discussed our options, I noticed that everyone in the room was looking at me for the ideas. It dawned on me that I was the final arbiter for the solution, and the incredibly skilled team I’d pulled together was not engaging, but instead deferring to me.

I’d created a culture not of team-based empowerment and ownership, but where I was the lone decider. I immediately left the room and asked everyone to determine their own approach. Thirty minutes later we had a viable approach, and the next day the problem was solved.

Leaders set the culture, and they should be measured at how effectively they’re doing just that.

The challenge is, what might that look like? Here’s an idea for a four-quadrant measurement approach for leaders in agile contexts.

1. Creating space for agile ideas

  • Innovation, hackathons, and creative problem-solving
  • Refactoring and maintenance investments
  • Working from home or remotely, and distributed teams
  • A mix of open and private physical space

2. Fostering team health

  • Attrition, salary and benefits, and employee referrals
  • Employee engagement and health survey data
  • Team learning and development
  • Team self-selection and number of reorganizations per year

3. Optimizing work and execution

  • Movement and output vs. results and outcomes
  • Churn (changing priority or focus, or interruptions)
  • Work-in-progress levels (planning or committing to too much)
  • X-cutting concern management (chapters and guilds, communities of practice, or Scrum of Scrums)

4. Maintaining a focus toward the customer

  • Contact between the team and customer
  • Reviews and demo engagement (and associated feedback)
  • Delivered value and delivered ROI
  • Engaging in an agile mindset (continuous improvement, “management by walking around,” learning)

These four quadrants provide a starting framework to measure leaders according to their agile maturity. Are they continuing their traditional behavior and tactics, or are they open and trying to change, adapt, and improve?

How else might we measure agile leaders on their organizational and personal effectiveness?

Bob Galen is presenting the session What “Good” Looks Like: The 4 Quadrants of Product Ownership at Agile + DevOps East 2019, November 3–8 in Orlando, Florida.

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