How reflecting over Agile methodologies can help think about a new style of leadership and benefit from digital transformation ?


To try and answer this question we will focus our attention on two important principles of Agile and follow them through to the Lean and Lean startup methodologies.

These two Agile principles are the following: value driven development and co-creation, as a team, including the client.

Value driven development is in opposition to the previous rigid waterfall process where the object of the development had to be entirely defined before cascading to the next stages of the waterfall. Managing the project then consisted of anticipating risks as exhaustively as possible and then continuously compromising on either quality, cost or delays until the end. With the Agile method the cost and end date of the project are set and with quick iterative cycles, the project slowly build with the most valuable components at first. The least important ones are added after, thus ensuring that by the end of the project, it integrates the most value it could have.

What about the quality then? That’s where the co-creation plays its role. The client, the people who have an interest in the project in the first place, are part of the team and they are here to ensure as the project goes forward that it correctly answers their needs. If it were not to, the whole project team reflects on how to adjust the trajectory, at each iteration, to ensure that it will.

The Lean methodology was developed in an industrial setting, with a clear objective: do more with less. That translates into two important notions: avoiding waste and continuous improvement.

Here you can see the parallel with Agile. Avoiding waste is a value driven strategy. And in the Lean methodology, avoiding waste has two different sides, both equally important but not as intuitive: avoiding bad quality (defects are wasted production) and avoiding over-quality (what goes beyond what is needed is considered a waste).

As for the continuous improvement, it is very much a co-creation process. The whole team is invited to reflect as they go and question any process, backed up by hierarchy so that any contribution at any level is considered and implemented if necessary.

Transposed to another context but based on the same principles, Lean then became Lean startup.

No over-quality: in Lean startup you put your energy into building the Minimum Viable Product necessary to start learning from. Of course, being an Agile methodology, the building happens in short cycles of iterations. Learning then ensures a good quality: you build, you test and you learn so that you can inform the next build iteration. In order for this methodology to work efficiently, the testing and learning need not to be based on affect, but rather on metrics and methods that are rigorous, scientific and, as Lean startup defines them, actionable. The whole purpose is to be able to react based on the knowledge you gather.

And Lean startup is still very much about co-creation. But it had to specifically address the challenge of co-creating with the public, an external client not as easily available for direct contribution. That is why a big part of the methodology is about finding ways to confront your project with reality. Metrics, interviews, tests, analytics are all different ways to ensure that your project addresses the right need for the right target and assess continuously whether you should persevere and keep going or whether you got to a point where you need to pivot to be relevant again. Pivoting can be necessary because of an initial misunderstanding of the needs, or because the needs have evolved or because the context has changed, either through a new concurrent business or a new technology for example.

This last point is what makes the Lean startup methodology such an interesting framework to apply to organisational challenges. Because the consequence of this methodology is that you are eventually not putting your effort into building the perfect product, service or process, which more and more can only be so for a fleeting moment. You are putting in place a system where decisions, analysis, based on the right metrics, involving all the actors and stakeholders, concur to create a capacity to adapt. Adaptation is what will make the strength of a team or a business. Today’s challenge is the ever increasing pace of innovation and digital transformation. Tomorrow’s challenge might be different. But knowing what to look for and having an organisation that can dynamically integrate change is necessary to remain a leader.

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