Requisite Virtues of the Agile Executive

Israel Gat, the BMC VP who drove the agile transformation of the Performance Manager product line at BMC, was interviewed the other day by the Agile Thinker blog. It’s an interesting perspective of agile from the viewpoint of the executive suite in a large software enterprise. Israel makes a number of key points in the interview which I won’t repeat here. However, I was struck by his comments on the key virtues that an executive must have to facilitate and empower a major agile transformation. When speaking of his boss, Mary Smars, he notes:

“she possessed this rare combination of pragmatic common sense, wisdom of life, patience and ability to trust people in a deep manner. To this very day I believe these are the four requisite virtues to look for in an Agile executive.”

I’m not sure exactly what he means by “wisdom of life”, but I sure understand and agree with the other three. Here’s my view:

Pragmatic common sense – agile is loaded with common sense. Examples abound: If a team meets face-to-face and coordinates their efforts for 15 minutes every day – will that facilitate better outcomes? If developers write the test at the same time they write the code, wouldn’t that foster quality from the start? If the team commits to a schedule, rather than their management, wouldn’t they be more likely to meet the schedule? If the users get some of the software sooner, rather than all of it (much) later, wouldn’t it be more likely that the team would build something the users actually need?

Patience – Agile delivers step–change improvements in productivity and quality. Doesn’t it make sense that it would take time to achieve such different results? Aren’t there likely deeply engrained reasons why they have not accomplished it prior to the transformation? Isn’t it likely that there will be some really hard work and a few failures along the way? Surely patience is required.

Ability to trust people – Trusting people, (along with holding them accountable for their results), is the underlying core value of agile. If the executives share the core value of the agile manifesto (Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done) wouldn’t that core alignment facilitate success? If we trust teams to develop and modify their own practices, and verify results by witnessing each potentially shippable increment in a short time box, wouldn’t that also just be common sense?

To these, I’ll add a fourth virtue, which I also learned from Israel: In the agile enterprise, managements need for results must be greater than the need for control!

3 thoughts on “Requisite Virtues of the Agile Executive

  1. IMHO the need for control (or to be more precise the illusion of control) is the number one obstacle to implementing Agile. My counsel to executives who consider doing Agile is very simple:

    “Think once, think twice, think thrice whether you are really, really, really ready to empower in the full sense of the word. Empowerment is like an acid test – for better or worse it will give you your defining moments.”

  2. To Dean’s question about “wisdom of life”, I would suggest a Hebrew proverb as a quick answer:

    “The wise man knows how not to get into a ditch that the smart man knows how to get out of.”

  3. “The wise man knows how not to get into a ditch that the smart man knows how to get out of.”

    Brilliant! Another definition of wisdom, that I like, is that being wise means being aware of the areas where you’re probably lacking knowledge (and so you’ll take more care), whereas being clever means being driven by knowledge without due acknowledgement of possible gaps in knowledge.

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