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Drive Mindset, Principles, and values through Lean-Agile Leadership

Context Setting: Challenges with Traditional Leadership

“What is the role of Leadership” is one of the key questions to be answered in an Agile or Scaled Agile transformation.

I have seen leaders are leaders who are very involved in the transformation journey, a typical anti-pattern that I noticed during my transformation journey with the majority of the Leaders are

  1. Leaders don’t involve themselves directly in scaled agile transformation; they believe that they don’t have to be part of the transformation as it is a more process-driven journey. It is not their responsibility to track it closely.
  2. Leaders get into the review of the scaled agile journey (only if they get time) and provide feedback based on their experience (which is normally the waterfall way of working).
  3. Leaders with their experience have certain preconceived beliefs about Agility and create blockers for the transformation with their notions (with limited understanding of the transformation journey).
  4. They operate mostly from processes and practices but do not understand & drive principles and mindset. Due to this, results are short-term and not sustainable.

All the above behaviors of the Leadership team fail the transformation because the foundation of transformation is Leadership.

How do we bring a Lean-Agile mindset to the organization?

To bring the Lean-Agile mindset to the organization 

  1. Drive Lean-Agile thinking through mindset
  2. Enable Core values of Lean and Agile
  3. Implement Lean-Agile principles

Role of Lean-Agile Leadership in driving the above 3 elements

Lean-Agile Leadership plays a key role in bringing all the 3 above-mentioned steps. Let’s go one by one to understand.

Drive Lean-Agile thinking through Mindset

Practices in a traditional organization are not sufficient to bring business agility results for the organization. In the given in below image, the process will give only limited results. Mindset brings sustainable business agility results in the long term.

Mindset is nothing but the filter or lens with which we look at the world. It’s about how the human brain interprets and processes a large amount of information it receives. Our mindset is formed based on structured learning (through classes/training etc) and unstructured lessons (learn through life & work experiences).

One example that we can relate to is – Leaders build the mindset (based on their experience) that Waterfall is the right way to build the product.

How can we change the mindset that is already built? One way to do it is by bringing awareness about the mindset. It is also important to change the existing mindset. To change this mindset, leaders will have to be very open. 

lean-agile leadership

The above picture clearly shows 2 types of mindsets – Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset. To build a Growth mindset in the organization, first, the leader must build the Growth mindset. A leader should believe that new abilities can be built with constant effort. A leader without a Growth mindset will lead to many such people with a Fixed Mindset. Hence it is first critical for the Leader to have a Growth mindset before changing the mindset of others.

Key Element to build a new mindset

To build a new mindset, it is important to understand 3 key elements that help build a new mindset.

  1. SAFe Core Values
  2. Lean-Agile mindset
  3. SAFe Principles
  1. SAFe Core Values

SAFe has 4 core values that drive a new mindset or a new way of thinking. They are

Core ValueExamples
AlignmentAlignment on dependencies, risks, common backlog implementation, alignment between SMs / POs / Architects, etc, alignment on common cadence (iteration / PI length), synchronized PI planning for all the teams…
Built-in QualityLeft shift quality through code quality practices like pair programming, TDD, static analysis, effective reviews, etc
TransparencyVisualization of backlog, transparency on failures and improvements, facts are transparent
Program ExecutionBusiness Owner’s involvement in PI execution, adjustment of scope to ensure demand match team’s capacity, continuous and aggressive removal of impediments
  1. Lean-Agile Mindset

Lean Mindset is nothing but a bunch of effective principles and practices for efficient manufacturing and operations that were used in Toyota’s production system.

Agile is nothing but 4 values (manifesto) and 12 principles for incremental and iterative software development. 

House of Lean was built by Dean Leffingwell along with Mary Poppendieck and others, which drives the shortest sustainable lead time, optimization of flow, built-in quality, brings innovative people and provide time/space for innovation, pivot without mercy or guilt, a constant sense of danger and optimizing the whole, problem-solving culture with lean techniques like fish-bone analysis, Y-Y analysis, Pareto analysis, etc. It also brings the importance of Leadership (as a foundation) in driving a lean-agile mindset in the organization.

lean-agile leadership foundation
  1. SAFe Principles

Beyond the above elements, SAFe has brought 10 principles (that are immutable) to apply Lean & Agile at scale. Here are the principles with a few examples of implementation of principles.

Take an economic viewPrioritization of backlog based on WSJF, Lead time/cycle time
Apply Systems thinkingIdentification & removal of waste in the system
Assume variability, preserve optionsPreserving technology options through a set-based design approach during a cone of uncertainty
Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cyclesIntegrated system demo at the end of every 2 weeks, release often, CI / CD pipeline building
Base milestones on an objective evaluation of working systemsPI System Demo, Inspect & Adapt, Problem-solving workshop
Visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch size and manage queue lengthsWIP implementation in Program Kanban, incremental value delivery of features instead of large release, CI / CD pipeline
Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planningSynchronized PI planning as a common event for all the teams in ART, synchronized iterations, Scrum of Scrum PO Sync, System Demo
Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workersSet a clear purpose for each engineer in the ART, provide autonomy to teams, and build mastery within the team and individual (T skills, PI skills, Comb skills) 
Decentralize decision makingDecentralize decisions based on decision frequency, long-lasting, and significance on the economy of scale.
Organize around valueStructure the ART to have all skills to deliver value, team and ART structure based on team topology concept 

What is the Leadership role in implementing the above mindset, values, and principles?

Culture comes from leadership. Hence, it is critical for the Leaders to drive the Growth Mindset, implement all 4 core values of SAFe and implement all the 10 principles in parallel during SAFe implementation. These three are very critical for the successful implementation of SAFe.

Since it is implemented on a large scale, without Leaderships involvement and drive, these will not be implemented well. Hence, Leaders should spend a good amount of time making sure all three are implemented in day-to-day work.

Last Updated on November 10, 2022 by Krishna