Agile is a way to organize authority

Agile started out in the Agile Manifesto. That was written by software developers to create a new way of working. That manifested in ways of working like Agile Scrum. Those frameworks were designed to create the Agile mindset in people, to move them from “doing” Agile to “being” Agile. Agility is nice when the world is changing fast. Iterations are nice when there is a lot of uncertainty and you need to learn fast. But where Agile (Scrum) really shines is in the organization of authority. Even when the world around you isn’t moving fast enough to require agility, even when you already know what to build and how to build it, even then the Agile mindset is valuable because it provides you with a framework to organize authority in a more human, empowering way.

Dennis Hambeukers
Product Owner Notebook
4 min readMar 11, 2024



So, how does Agile organize authority?

Authority is the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.

In the book Brave New Work, Aaron Dignan has a couple of questions that we can use to map authority. Let’s answer them for Agile.

How is authority distributed?
Across a network.

Who can tell others what to do?

What kinds of decisions do we make?
What to build, when and how.

How do we make important decisions?
Together with all who are impacted. In the end the Product Owner is the tie-breaker if stakeholders do not agree.

How do we appropriate risk?
We either Resolve, Own, Accept, and Mitigate (ROAM) them together with stakeholders.

What is safe to try?
Anything. Safety is quintessential.

What decision rights are reserved for specific roles?
The development team gets to decide when what is built and how.

The Agile organization of authority

Only when I studies the SAFe framework it became clear to me that Agile is a network organization. There is no hierarchy in Agile. All people share ownership.

  • The business stakeholders provide the business needs
  • The customers provide the customer needs
  • The developers provide the technical limitations and possibilities

That what gets built combines business needs (viability), customer needs (desirability) and technical possibilities (feasibility). The Product Owner sits in the middle of this and creates a product vision and roadmap that hits the sweet spot between viability, desirability, and feasibility. The product vision manifests in the form of user stories with priority on the team backlog. The development team decides what user stories to pick up when and how to build them. The development team then demos the realized features to the stakeholders and users to get feedback on the viability and desirability. This feedback loop makes sure the development team takes ownership of what they built.

Nobody can tell anyone what to do. Nobody can enforce orders. This is radically different from the dominant hierarchical way of organizing authority. Who decides what is built? The development team. The development team that has to do the work decides what, when and how things get built. They get the trust that they will do a good job. They have to prioritixed list of user stories on the backlog as theit working material. The stakeholders will hold them accountable when features get delivered. The whole network decides what gets delivered.

Maybe two decisions sit outside the development team and are located more in the hierarchy of the organization next to the network organization that is Agile. One is the budget. A team needs to be funded. A budget holder decides on the budget. And a team needs an assignment, a scope, a problem to fix. A strategist needs to decide that. But if there is budget and scope, there is nobody that can tell anyone what to do. The decision what to do lies with the people that need to do stuff: the development team.

A more empowering model to organize authority

This model is based on trust and the power of co-creation. It uses a network model instead of the dominant hierarchical model. It empowers people to take on ownership. It empowers the people that do the work to make decisions. It prevents people to fall into the trap of authoritarian behavior. It gives people autonomy and ownership over their way of working. It promotes transparency. It promotes the development of new ways of leadership. Personal leadership and leadership that is based on trust, vision, and coaching. It provides tools to create safety. It leverages the collective intelligence and creativity of a group of people through co-creation. Agile so much more than innovation and the creation of a learning organization. Agile a more human way to organize authority, a more empowering way to organize.

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Dennis Hambeukers
Product Owner Notebook

Design Thinker, Agile Evangelist, Practical Strategist, Creativity Facilitator, Business Artist, Corporate Rebel, Product Owner, Chaos Pilot, Humble Warrior