Mastering Agile Leadership with These 5 Growth Strategies

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Before delving into agile leadership, let’s align ourselves on some basic concepts about agile methodology.

Agile is a type of software development methodology that anticipates the need for flexibility and applies a level of pragmatism to the delivery of the finished product.

Moreover, agile software development is an iterative approach to software development that emphasizes collaboration, flexibility, and rapid delivery. 

It requires a cultural shift in many companies because it focuses on the clean delivery of individual pieces or parts of the software and not on the entire application. 

It has revolutionized the way we approach software development and project management.

Agile teams are self-organizing and cross-functional, which means that they require strong leadership to be successful. 

But Agile implies even more than that! It implies a different approach to leadership.

Even though the classical leadership roles might have changed, the leadership tasks have not disappeared.

But how are they executed in agile teams and organizations?

How are they adapted for agile methods to work in an organizational context?

Agile leadership is about not only driving and promoting change, but it is also about being the change. Those who lead by example and actively engage in their development, inspire people. 

This is through action rather than words; as Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see”.

In this article, we’ll discuss five leadership strategies for successfully managing agile software development teams.

Emphasize Collaboration, Coordination, and Communication

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”

Steve jobs

Agile software development is all about collaboration, coordination, and communication. Leaders of agile teams should focus on creating an environment that fosters those values.

One way to achieve this is by holding daily stand-up meetings where team members can share their progress and identify any blockers they are facing.

Agile leadership is a leadership style that strives to remove roadblocks to success so that employees can be more effective and productive.

4 people around a table working as a team
 Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Agile leaders communicate openly and transparently with their team members. Their priority is collaborating by removing roadblocks so that team members can achieve their priorities each day.

 By communicating effectively, agile supervisors can anticipate and remove barriers to success.

The daily stand-up meeting is key to coordinating the teamwork and efforts to accomplish the objective of the sprint. Everyone has to be synchronized to accomplish the objective.

Another way is by using agile project management tools, such as Jira or Azure DevOps,  to enable real-time collaboration and communication.

Encourage Continuous Improvement

“Excellence is a continuous process and not an accident.”

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

Continuous improvement is at the core of agile software development. 

So, leaders of agile teams should encourage their teams to adopt a continuous improvement mindset by regularly reviewing their processes and identifying areas for improvement.

One way to achieve this is by holding retrospective meetings at the end of each sprint, where the team can discuss what went well and what could have been done better. 

A blackboard with "Upgrade" word written on it.
Image from Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

As an agile leader you need to recognize others are capable of important innovations, so you prefer to listen when employees bring forward ideas.

Another way is by encouraging team members to attend conferences, workshops, and training sessions to stay up-to-date on the latest software development practices.

Create a Culture of Accountability

“Accountability breeds response-ability.”

Stephen Covey

Accountability is critical in agile software development. Leaders of agile teams should create a culture of accountability where team members are responsible for their work and are held accountable for delivering on their commitments. 

How should they do it?

By defining clear roles and responsibilities for each team member and setting clear expectations for what is expected of them. Then, let the team take control of their work and schedules. 

Micromanagement is not allowed…

In addition, a culture of agility always seeks better ways of working, which often involves employees and teams being able to organize (and optimize) their workflows.

3 post its , each one saying: To Do, Doing and Done; like a Kanban board
Photo by Eden Constantino on Unsplash

Agile leaders can leverage agile project management tools, such as Kanban boards, to track progress and identify any bottlenecks.

As you can see goal-setting, accountability and other more “directive” aspects of leadership are still very present in agile contexts. Still, their locus seems to shift from the line manager to being shared in the team.

Focus on Results

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Peter Drucker

Agile software development is all about delivering results. Leaders of agile teams should focus their teams on delivering results by setting clear goals and objectives and aligning their efforts with the organization’s strategic priorities. 

The world Results, written with each letter inside a colored circle
Image from Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

They need to break down large goals into smaller, more manageable tasks, and regularly review progress against those tasks

Keep in mind that, when referring to the software development itself, you should not consider small deliverables that can’t be delivered into production. 

Other agile project management tools, such as burn-down charts, are ideal allied to track progress and adjust plans as necessary.

Regarding focus on results, you should consider as well that as an agile leader, you have to focus on facts and measurable outcomes.

If something isn’t working, for example, don’t throw blame around: just look at the data to see why it didn’t work and use what you learn from it to correct it in future instances.

Listen & Empower Your Team

“The best leaders are those most interested in surrounding themselves with assistants and associates smarter than they are.”

John C. Maxwell

Agile software development requires a high level of autonomy and empowerment. 

It empowers people to make decisions based on their knowledge. 

Under an agile leadership model, employees are encouraged to share ideas and experiment.

Leaders of agile teams should empower their teams by giving them the tools, resources, and support they need to succeed, as well as fostering transparent communication, so employees have the information they need to make quick decisions with confidence.

Empower written in bold on a desk with a pen and a cell phone on the same desk
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

One way to achieve this is by providing training and development opportunities to help team members develop the skills they need to succeed. 

Giving team members the freedom to experiment and try new things, without fear of failure, is another best practice in agile leadership.

Last but not least, activities, events, or spaces should be created to encourage employees to communicate and raise concerns or ideas to be easily escalated to upper management. 

Listening to employees on the frontlines is key to agile leadership. Agile leaders understand that practical process solutions are most likely to come from the people involved in the project and with the proper expertise.

Just a quick example: we were facing severe issues with one of our major staffing clients and we were able to solve it by listening to one of the team members staffed to this client, who identified that the in-house team writing user stories lacked the expertise needed to do it correctly, so we decided to give some support to the client to enhance user stories moving forward. And it worked!!!

In Conclusion…

Successfully managing agile software development teams requires strong leadership.

Leaders of agile teams should emphasize collaboration and communication, encourage continuous improvement, create a culture of accountability, focus on results, and empower their teams. 

By following these five strategies, leaders can help their agile teams deliver high-quality software products that meet their customer’s needs.

At Switch, we understand the importance of leadership in software development teams, and we are here to help you achieve your goals. Through our IT Managed services, end-to-end development, or dedicated teams service, you can benefit from our experienced leaders and IT teams,  who can provide guidance and support to enhance your team abilities or take your software projects to the next level.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you drive success in your software development projects.


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