This 1,017-word post was written by Meg N., an expert in the areas of fintech, legaltech, AI, machine learning, and other areas related to technology and digital transformation, on the success of the lean-agile mindset, particularly as set forth by effective leadership. Meg has written over 600 posts for Verblio clients, primarily in IT & data security, business consulting, and marketing and advertising industries.
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Many associate agile methodologies with the Agile Manifesto, which was written and published by a group of software developers in 2001. However, agile methodologies were created before the 21st century, the advent of the internet, and the development of software that supports business today. In fact, originally they were born outside of IT development needs.
It all started with a statistician and physicist, Walter Shewhart in the 1930s. Shewhart developed a cycle to increase efficiency in product development. He referred to it as the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle and taught it to his mentee, who then introduced it to Toyota, where it became the infamous Toyota Production System.
It didn’t take long for other organizations to catch on and start utilizing the same concepts of this lean-agile mindset in their own business practices.
What Is the Lean-Agile Mindset?
The lean-agile mindset is born out of the combination of two core values.
1. Embracing leanness: The ability to be lean revolves around four key pillars, including relentless improvement, innovation, flow, and respect for people and culture. These pillars are then encapsulated by a foundation of strong leadership, which in turn creates the end value.
2. Prioritizing agility: Effective business agility is fully realized when companies utilize the Scaled Agile Framework, or SAFe, and the Agile Manifesto. The Manifesto gives a directive to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan.
While these were initially geared towards software development, SAFe has transformed them to apply to the wider business community. To successfully pursue this value system, though, teams and their leaders must be able to fully employ their capabilities, aptitude, and skills.
Once the lean-agile mindset is fully understood, it becomes clear that good leadership is a key component to success.
What Are the Benefits of the Lean-Agile Mindset?
Organizations around the world utilize the lean-agile mindset because it creates considerable benefits. And all of these benefits revolve around the ability of this methodology to create a high degree of deliverable results in a short, sustainable way. When broken down to a granular level, though, the benefits are:
- Speed: Business teams are able to more effectively respond to change and adapt efficiently.
- Collaboration: Leaders, team members, and other stakeholders have a continuous flow of communication by working more closely together.
- Visible Results: Value creation becomes more tangible as projects are truncated by shorter planning and project sprints.
- Less Costly Mistakes: As projects are broken down into increments, feedback becomes more regular and mistakes are caught early.
- Customer-Friendly: While the mindset makes a business more lean and more agile, the end result is that better products or services are delivered to customers more expediently. Additionally, the value of the customer is accentuated and prioritized.
- Clarity: Leaders and team members fully understand what their responsibilities and are accountable to the entire team.
- Smarter Resource-Use: Because of the enhanced communication, the ability to quickly identify problems, and the increased maneuverability, leaders can conserve resources and reduce work.
- Respect: The end goal of the lean-agile mindset is to produce a product or service that comprehensively serves customers. This requires the team to understand, value, and respect the customer. Additionally, respect is developed across the team as upper level management and team members collaborate to develop mutual solutions to problems.
- Flow: Systems and processes are structured, managed, and monitored to increase value and reduce waste, streamlining the workflow. This allows better products or services to be created faster and with fewer resources.
- Innovation: The lean-agile mindset is built to encourage innovation. Because of the adaptability of processes and the speed at which projects are pursued, as well as the fact that resources are used in a smarter way, innovations cost less and companies can quickly identify whether they will fail or succeed.
- Continuous Improvement: Because the mindset relies on iteration and monitoring, processes will continuously be improved and optimized. Additionally, every phase of the value stream can be improved along the way due to the fact that the process is flexible and adaptable.
The Problem with Poor Leadership
The core values of both embracing leanness and prioritizing agility rely heavily on strong leadership. It is the foundation that all of the other pillars of this mindset depend on. Due to the fact that strong leaders are built, not born, companies must prioritize a leadership development program that will teach management to:
- Value a leadership culture that builds trust with the team and shows that they value each team member and their work INSTEAD OF a leadership culture that only rewards results.
- Helps the team to learn from failures, embrace lessons, and encourage smart risk-taking INSTEAD OF blaming others for failures and instilling fear of risk in the team.
- Empowers team members to make collaborative decisions INSTEAD OF requiring decisions to be made based on hierarchy and multiple approvals.
- Prioritize the entire team’s improvement INSTEAD OF focusing on their own improvement.
- Create trust and builds relationships, treating every team member as an equal INSTEAD OF giving authority to rank, expertise, or skill.
- Encourage teams to make decisions together INSTEAD OF making all decisions for the team.
- Sense and respond to the process INSTEAD OF predicting and controlling.
When management reverts to the latter half of these leadership competencies they will struggle to effectively implement the lean-agile mindset in their team. So even though they are attempting to create new methods for approaching projects, the team will only be able to partially adopt these methods and lose out on all of the benefits that the lean-agile mindset should bring. For example, when a leader doesn’t embrace risk-taking and the occasional failure, teams will be hesitant to innovate. When leaders make all of the decisions for the team, collaboration will disappear. When team members are treated differently based on their rank, respect is lost. In other words, every benefit of this mindset will be hindered by poor leadership skills.
To avoid these problems and lay the groundwork for a smooth transition from current business methods to the lean-agile approach, explore our leadership development programs.