Lean-Agile Leadership at all levels is about empowering those doing the work

Lean-Agile Leadership at all levels is about empowering those doing the work

Scaling Agility across the enterprise presents incredible opportunities for knowledge workers in every discipline to be a part of something much bigger than themselves.

When leadership commits to implementing a scaled implementation of Agile it communicates trust to those who do the work. It champions dedication to building efficiency and innovation through cross-functional collaboration. 

However, achieving this change can be challenging if parts of the organisation are not speaking the same ‘language’ of change.


“Business Agility requires that everyone involved in delivering solutions across business and technology use Lean and Agile practises to continually deliver innovative, high-quality products and services faster than the competition.”


Ignoring the need for general and role-based training across an organisation communicates indecision by leadership likely resulting in knowledge gaps and misalignment that will put the transition to Lean-Agile ways of thinking and working at risk.


Case Study 

At one organisation, technical teams attended several SAFe for Teams classes. They understood the principles, asked questions, and wanted to improve. 

Unfortunately, their new disciplined practice for quality that yielded delivery predictability, started to falter. Unplanned work would appear in Sprint backlogs, throwing them off their cadence and out of the mindset. 

Team and Program metrics clearly pointed to the injection of unprioritized work from a number of sources.

Leveraging access to good agile coaches and the learnings from a SAFe for Teams course, teams had established states on standard Kanban style ‘boards’.  They knew and understood how to limit work-in process (WIP) so as not to become overwhelmed. With those team practices in place, Scrum Masters were able to consistently collect and display the flow load over time for several Sprints using Cumulative Flow Diagrams (CFD). 

The CFD provides 

  • near real-time arrival and departure of any backlog item in any process state. This is the Throughput of a given item.
  • the viewer can readily recognize the quantity of work in a given flow state.
  • Product Owners, Scrummasters and Technical Teams can learn to diagnose their own bottlenecks and improve.  
  • agile coaches utilise the CFD to diagnose team characteristics 

Because the teams were trained, they were able to articulate the situation. The CFD clearly indicated that work was entering the Sprint boundary late, forcing planned and prioritised work to be de-prioritised. Work was stalled during various stages of development, testing and integration. The cost of delay was staggering to the enterprise.

The rest of the organisation was still operating on a different set of values, goals, and objectives. 

Much of the rest of the organisation had not attended the same SAFe courses as the individuals on whom they depended. Too often agile training is seen as something only ‘dev teams’ should take.  

In this case sprint boundaries were often ignored. High value requests from business owners were in conflict with technical priorities from managers and architects. Previously prioritised product development and technical work were inevitably in conflict. The technical teams were caught in the middle. 

Leadership had to take the wheel immediately.  Working with SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs), a pragmatic curriculum of agile classes were implemented. Over the course of a fiscal quarter, everyone could have productive conversations, plan together and prioritise accordingly to the needs of the enterprise goals and market opportunities. One Product Owner even used her budget to fly dev team members into the PI Planning from across the continent!


It’s not enough that management commit themselves to quality and productivity, they must know what it is they must do. Such a responsibility cannot be delegated. 

—W. Edwards Deming


Education is a key foundation of the SAFe Implementation Roadmap, and a great place to start your agile journey is to map out the audiences and roles in the organisation to set your Agile Transformation up for success.

This article is part 2 of our series of articles on Lean-Agile Leadership.

Read Part 2: Lean-Agile Leadership Call to Action



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