Agile Leadership

  1. National Public Radio employs agile methods to create new programming.
  2. John Deere uses them to develop new machines, and
  3. Saab to produce new fighter jets.
  4. Intronis, a leader in cloud backup services, uses them in marketing.
  5. C.H. Robinson, a global third-party logistics provider, applies them in human resources.
  6. Mission Bell Winery uses them for everything from wine production to warehousing to running its senior leadership group.
  7. And GE relies on them to speed a much-publicized transition from 20th-century conglomerate to 21st-century “digital industrial company.”
  8. Even HR Goes Agile. HR has not had to change in recent decades nearly as much as have the line operations it supports. But now the pressure is on, and it’s coming from the operating level, which makes it much harder to cling to old talent practices.
  • What if a company could achieve positive returns with 50% more of its new-product introductions?
  • What if marketing programs could generate 40% more customer inquiries?
  • What if human resources could recruit 60% more of its highest-priority targets?
  • What if twice as many workers were emotionally engaged in their jobs?

Agile Values and Principles

In 2001, 17 rebellious software developers (including Jeff Sutherland) met in Snowbird, Utah, to share ideas for improving traditional “waterfall” development, in which detailed requirements and execution plans are created up front and then passed sequentially from function to function. This approach worked fine in stable environments, but not when software markets began to change rapidly and unpredictably. In that scenario, product specifications were outdated by the time the software was delivered to customers, and developers felt oppressed by bureaucratic procedures. The rebels proposed four new values for developing software, described principles to guide adherence to those values, and dubbed their call to arms “The Agile Manifesto.” To this day, development frameworks that follow these values and principles are known as agile techniques. Here is an adapted version of the manifesto:


Projects should be built around motivated individuals who are given the support they need and trusted to get the job done. Teams should abandon the assembly-line mentality in favor of a fun, creative environment for problem solving, and should maintain a sustainable pace. Employees should talk face-to-face and suggest ways to improve their work environment. Management should remove impediments to easier, more fruitful collaboration.


Innovators who can see their results in real market conditions will learn faster, be happier, stay longer, and do more-valuable work. Teams should experiment on small parts of the product with a few customers for short periods, and if customers like them, keep them. If customers don’t like them, teams should figure out fixes or move on to the next thing. Team members should resolve arguments with experiments rather than endless debates or appeals to authority.


Most detailed predictions and plans of conventional project management are a waste of time and money. Although teams should create a vision and plan, they should plan only those tasks that won’t have changed by the time they get to them. And people should be happy to learn things that alter their direction, even late in the development process. That will put them closer to the customer and make for better results.


Time to market and cost are paramount, and specifications should evolve throughout the project, because customers can seldom predict what they will actually want. Rapid prototyping, frequent market tests, and constant collaboration keep work focused on what they will ultimately value.

Scrum vs Kanban vs Lean Development

The Nine Principles of Agile Leadership

Agile Business, shows in this table how the nine principles align with those key concepts of Communication, Commitment and Collaboration:

Shifting Your Management Style To Match Your Employees

There are many ways in business to be agile, but one of the most powerful ways is demonstrating agility with your employees. People like to be communicated with and recognized differently. It is never one-size-fits-all. Show how much you value your team’s contribution by understanding and being what they need. Productivity and engagement will benefit tremendously.



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Chris Shayan

Chris Shayan

Scaling Up, Growth and Digital Transformation guy.