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

Lean-Agile Leaders

Lean-Agile Leaders are lifelong learners who are responsible for the successful adoption of SAFe and the results it delivers. They empower and help teams build better systems by learning, exhibiting, and teaching and coaching SAFe’s Lean-Agile principles and practices.

The philosophy of SAFe is simple: As the advocates for the teams, the Enterprise’s managers, leaders, and executives have the ultimate responsibility for the adoption, success, and ongoing improvement of Lean-Agile development. Only they can change and continuously improve the systems in which everyone operates. To achieve this, leaders must be trained in—and become trainers of—these leaner ways of thinking and operating. As W. Edwards Deming notes, “such a responsibility cannot be delegated.” Many need to offer a new style of leadership, one that truly coaches, empowers, and engages individuals and teams to reach their highest potential.

Details

SAFe Lean-Agile Leaders are lifelong learners and teachers who help teams build better systems through understanding and exhibiting the Lean-Agile Mindset, SAFe Principles, and systems thinking. Such leaders exhibit the behaviors below.

#1 – Lead the Change

The work of steering an organization toward Lean and Agile behaviors, habits, and results cannot be delegated. Rather, Lean-Agile leaders:

  • Exhibit urgency for change.
  • Communicate the need for the change.
  • Build a plan for successful change.
  • Understand and manage the change process.
  • Address problems as they come up.

They have knowledge of organizational change management and take a systems view while Implementing the transformation.

#2 – Know the Way; Emphasize Lifelong Learning

Create an environment that promotes learning. Encourage team members to build relationships with Customers and Suppliers and expose them to other worldviews. Strive to learn and understand new developments in Lean, Agile, and contemporary management practices. Create and foster formal and informal groups for learning and improvement. Read voraciously from the SAFe recommended reading list and on other topics. Share selected readings with others and sponsor book club events for the most relevant texts.

Allow people to solve their own problems. Help them identify a given problem, understand the root causes, and build solutions that will be embraced by the organization. Support individuals and teams when they make mistakes, otherwise learning is not possible.

#3 – Develop People

Employ a Lean leadership style that focuses on developing skills and career paths for team members rather than on being a technical expert or coordinator of tasks. Create a team jointly responsible for success. Learn how to solve problems together in a way that develops individual capabilities and increases engagement and commitment. Respect people and culture.

#4 – Inspire and Align with Mission; Minimize Constraints

Provide mission and vision with minimum specific work requirements. Eliminate demotivating policies and procedures. Build Agile Teams and trains organized around value. Understand the power of self-organizing, self-managing teams. Create a safe environment for learning, growth, and mutual influence. Build an Economic Framework for each Value Stream and teach it to everyone.

#5 – Decentralize Decision-Making

Establish a decision-making framework. Empower others by setting the mission, developing people, and teaching them to problem-solve. Take responsibility for making and communicating strategic decisions—those that are infrequent, long lasting, and have significant economies of scale. Decentralize all other decisions. (See Principle #9 for further discussion.).

#6 – Unlock the Intrinsic Motivation of Knowledge Workers

Understand the role that compensation plays in motivating knowledge workers. Create an environment of mutual influence. Eliminate any and all management-by-objectives (MBO) guidelines that cause internal competition. Revamp personnel evaluations to support Lean-Agile principles and values. Provide purpose and autonomy to help workers achieve mastery of new and increasing skills. (See Principle #8 for further discussion.).

Role of the Development Manager

To implement the principles of Lean and Agile development, SAFe emphasizes the values of nearly-autonomous, self-organizing, cross-functional teams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs). This supports a leaner management infrastructure, with more empowered individuals and teams employing faster, local decision-making. Traditional, day-to-day employee instruction and activity direction is no longer required.

However, employees still need leaders to:

  • Assist them with career development.
  • Set and manage expectations and compensation.
  • Offer the active coaching they need to advance their technical, functional, individual, and team skills and career goals.
  • Provide the opportunity to serve as an integral member of a high-performing team.

In addition, self-organizing ARTs do not fund themselves or define their own mission. That remains a management responsibility, as it is an element of strategy implementation.

Much of this responsibility typically falls to the traditional role of the development manager; and the adoption of Lean-Agile development does not rescind those responsibilities. However, in SAFe these responsibilities are delegated to those who can adapt, thrive, and grow in this new environment.

Responsibilities

The development manager (or engineering manager) for system development) is a manager who exhibits the principles and practices of Lean-Agile leadership as described above. Further, the manager has personal responsibility for the coaching and career development of direct reports, takes responsibility for eliminating impediments, and actively evolves the systems in which all knowledge workers operate. They have final accountability for effective value delivery as well. A summary of responsibilities is highlighted below.

Personnel and Team Development

  • Attract, recruit, and retain capable individuals.
  • Build high-performance teams; establish mission and purpose for individuals and teams.
  • Perform career counseling and personal development.
  • Listen and support teams in problem identification, root cause analysis, and decision-making.
  • Participate in defining and administering compensation, benefits, and promotions.
  • Eliminate impediments and evolve systems and practices in support of Lean-Agile development.
  • Have subtle control of assigning individuals to teams, address issues that teams cannot resolve, and make personnel changes where necessary.
  • Evaluate performance, including team input; provide guidance and corrective actions.
  • Serve as Agile coach and advisor to Agile Teams.
  • Remain close enough to the team to add value and to be a competent manager; stay far enough away to let them problem-solve on their own.

Program Execution

  • Help build Agile Milestones and Roadmaps, as well the plans that enable them.
  • Help develop, implement, and communicate the economic framework.
  • Participate in Inspect and Adapt (I&A) workshops. Support teams by helping them remove systemic impediments and implementing continuous improvement backlog items.
  • Protect teams from distractions and unrelated or unnecessary work.
  • Assist the Release Train and Solution Train Engineers with PI Planning readiness and Pre- and Post- PI Planning activities
  • Participate in PI planning, System Demo, and Solution Demo.
  • Build partnerships with Suppliers, subcontractors, consultants, partners, and internal and external stakeholders.
  • Provide other resources as necessary for teams and ARTs to successfully execute their Vision and roadmap.
  • Reinforce the Essential SAFe practices
  • Identify delays in the system by facilitating or participating in value stream mapping.

Alignment

Transparency

  • Create an environment where the facts are always friendly.
  • Provide freedom and safety so that individuals and teams feel free to innovate, experiment, and even fail on occasion.
  • Communicate openly and honestly with all stakeholders.
  • Keep backlogs and information radiators fully visible to all.
  • Value productivity, quality, transparency, and openness over internal politics.

Built-in Quality


Learn More

[1] Manifesto for Agile Software Development. http://agilemanifesto.org/.

[2] Reinertsen, Donald. The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development. Celeritas Publishing, 2009.

[3] Rother, Mike. Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results. McGraw-Hill, 2009.

[4] Liker, Jeffrey and Gary L. Convis. The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership: Achieving and Sustaining Excellence Through Leadership Development. McGraw-Hill, 2011.

Last update: 1 August, 2017