What Björn showed me about agile Leadership

Björn Czybik wrapped some fundamental insights about today’s challenges within organizations (the fish) into yesterday’s newspaper of humor.

He contrasted staff who is responsible for directing against developers succeeding without them.
How could that be? Is it allowed to be?


First things first.

/leadership vs. management

Many people are not aware of the difference between leadership and management.
They are fine in believing, “the suits” are all the same
– ignore, and do not let them bother You.

Is that all true?

There is a strong indicator to the fact that there is a difference: two different words.

  • Leadership gives direction – Management keeps it.
  • Leadership works with vision – Management works with figures.
  • Leadership is about effectivity – Management is about efficiency.

OK. There is a certain narrowness in the origin.
Imagine a horse led by a longe (lunge line) in a circle.
The lunging circle is specific variant of a manege.
That is, where management comes from.

And leadership?
This is a quite newish term. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leadership

WolframAlpha on “Leadership”

However, the act of leading (decide where to go) needs to be performed before You can manage execution, measure its results and improve (speed up) the fulfilment properly.

Sounds self-evident, but is practiced so rarely, that I felt the need to codify it.
I called it the up2u-protocol. You can found more on its dedicated blog-site.

Leadership is the red path, management the blue.
On the blue path, You earn money. Or You lose it. Or You leave it on the table.
Depends on how proper and often, red path is walked through.

/scientific management

The reason why people forgot about leading and think “it is all management” is, that F.W. Taylor described some principles and methods which had huge impact on industrial society.
It made possible to produce unbelievable amounts of ever the same as long it is black.

Best shape to organize work this way is the pyramid.

For decades, it was no question where to head to:
more, faster, higher of the ever-same machines, communications, buildings etc.

The better kills the good.

But today – 45 years later – we face the “limits of growth”.
Did we used meantime wisely?

Seems, that many did.

Others did not.

/off course!

Yes, You read it right. “Off” course is, what we are most of our time acting in face of Uncertainty.
Even when we head a well-defined destination, we are most of the time travelling within a limit of acceptable variety.
(I got this speaking image in the beginning of a German Text of Rolf Dobelli, published in NZZ.)

The thing is:
You need a destination to determine, whether You are on or off the course (or track) to it.
The comparative (“more”, “better”, “faster”) is describing progress towards a direction.

Most of us never chose direction and the rest simply forgot over the decades.
In the end, it is more believing in the direction than reflection about “do we want to go there?”.

/what is the need?

Everything was fine as there was the shared agreement, that we will buy what is better and dump the good to the junkyard of history. Worked until markets were saturated.

Suddenly, there is the limit of growth and some branches hit the wall very hard (“rust belt”). “Modern Age” ended abrupt and today’s reality set in.

New industries arose and transformed the rest of the old Businesses that survived the end of modernism.

In the beginning, for example software was produced just the same way as nuclear power plants or skyscrapers.
But, there is a difference.

Software can be updated or retired with nearly no effort – compared to nuclear power plants.
You can change functionality easily by another release.
There is no need to be perfect at first strike.

That gives the opportunity but also the need to interact with customers once they start to use Your product.
Fundamental Change!

In the old world, You interact on sales until transaction is successfully terminated.
In the world of software, You start relationship in the moment a purchase leads to use.

/Leadership and self-organization

Why is self-organization needed then?

The most efficient way to organize is:
one person sets direction and everybody else follows.
As long as this one person knows all the relevant facts and followers therefore trust the leader this works best.

But, limited as we people are, we cannot do and know everything in a perfect manner.
So, we split up responsibilities in expertise, organize in boards (“C-Level”), middle-management and those that do actually the work.
Differentiation set in. Completeness ended on level of a single person.

/corporate body

Imagine an organization as body consisting of bones, flesh and blood.

Bones give structure, shape the body from within.
These are the assets and processes an organization owns.

Flesh are the people, working in that organization. Relationships of the people are the fiber between them. They are the muscles.
Contracting and relaxing.
That is how labor is performed.

But You need also a transport medium to keep the body alive.
Blood – it contains Oxygene but also red and white blood particles.
In world of organization it is money, ideas (visions) and figures that determine whether a body is alive and well-being, a little short on something, suffering from disease or just dead.

Does the “man on the top” knows every customer and its need for use?

/closer to the customer

As long as Your product sells by itself, You do not need to interact with its users very much. But in the moment, priorities shift from bare availability to Quality, things get complicated or even complex.

If the customer can name a list of specifications, it is easy to determine “fulfilled or not”.
Even, if the specification document contains more than 100 pages.

But, customers are all unique by a certain degree.
You need to determine, measure or just guess about their specific need.
This differentiation makes it hard and nearly impossible to create the “one fits all” product to please everybody.

So, You need to find out, how the product needs to be designed to please (potential) customers.
This is the moment, You shift from product-centric approach to the customer-centric.
Your product will serve now the higher meaning of customer relationship.

This is, where You limit Your ability to success by stumbling through the red path, following the traded and unreflected belief “need to be fast – do not lose time”.

/polygonal solution area

Once, when You do better, You take Your time on determination, what is really needed. Your product will provide solution to a problem. It will satisfy customer’s need.

The (potential) customer and his purchase is a step to the destination of Your company’s journey.

You need someone to set course.
In the world of software development by Scrum framework this role is called “Product Owner”.
This role and the person/s that fill it, sets destination by creating the product vision.

But, this does not need to be one person on its own – sitting on top of the corporate ivory tower.
Products are more successful when they reflect on several facets of usage Scenario/s.

Product Owners are responsible for that there is a product vision.
It can be worked out by several people contributing different aspects to the area where solution can be found.

The limits to this area shaped from outside will define a polygonal solution area (“⌂”).
Within, the starting point can be found. Everything from there to a working product will be part of the MVP (“minimal Viable Product”). Everything that is needed to serve the demand/s of existing or future customers additionally will be added iteratively (Sprint by Sprint).

Everything that meets the vision shapes the house:

House of St. Nicholas
polygonal solution area: Haus vom Nikolaus (Eulerian circle)

Every iteration adds additional functionality (blue triangles).

Sounds pretty complete and obvious. Why leadership is needed then?

/agile Leadership

The challenge in leading is to determine (or at least pretending to know) what is the right direction and to communicate this.

If it is convincing in a sufficient manner, people will align to, commit to and contribute to fulfil by working towards that.

All fine as long the destination stays stable for a sufficient period of time.

Problems come up, when there is the need to correct or completely change direction.
Disorientation and confusion will come up, when communication and alignment is done in an insufficient manner. The bigger the group and the greater the (mental) distance between the intended participants is, the worse impact will be.
You need to communicate often to correct and re-align troops heading against the enemy.

Enemy? Troops? Are that terms in context of the “Agile Community”?
Certainly not. There is a co-operative mindset originating actions of contribution.

By accepting some facts and the evolving humility from that, people act different in the “Agile World”.

  • Environment (“the world”) is ever changing.
    The longer You pause in inactivity, the more change You have to cope with.
  • So, get in action stepping baby steps, but constantly heading towards a destination that is accepted as the right one.
  • You cannot win by fighting against. You will win only by fighting for.
  • So, You do not face enemies around You. You need to find allies contributing the vision.

The last one is the most important: align in contribution.
This cannot be commanded. This cannot be taken for granted.
It must be achieved – from milestone to milestone, from sprint to sprint between all participants in every contributing action – again and again.

What does that mean for the leader?
There is no constancy in leading person and leading subject.

Remember also, everybody contributes in satisfying customer’s needs, not in product expertise. If You know the product as longest and deepest, that might have nearly no relevance to satisfy current and future needs. In extreme, it might ruin Your company at all (look at NOKIA).

You need to strength and train a corporate body that is capable of fitting to any situation – in difference to any situation needing to fit the corporate body.
Like the main difference between Body Building and Martial Arts.

Guess who will outperform the other?


The orientation of the corporate body has significant impact on the structure of the corporate body.
It is like Body Building in comparison to Martial Arts.

Best for a group of people producing the ever same is permanence in people, processes and product specification – constancy.

Best for servicing customer needs in an ever-changing world is being able to react in short time and deliver as most customer value as possible.
This is, what is understood by “Agility”.

First, You need to give up rigid (hierarchical) structures were bones and muscles cannot be distinct from each other.

Agility itself is achieved by contribution of diverse equals to a common goal, described by a vision and fulfilled by iterative steps towards this goal.
By that, the vision equals the destination of the journey and leaders are the guides to the stages (milestones) on the way that align allies contributing to the ride.

That is what Björn’s story told me.
Leadership is practiced by those who organize themselves around customer’s need
– not those who group around the coffee machine. 😉

Nothing new, but barely practiced.
Sad. But true.


/famous last words

Life runs in circles. Some are smaller, some are bigger.
In the end, there is no end – only another beginning.

“Enjoy, and share what You like.”
“Feel free to make life great by that!”

“Likes” are welcome. Comments are appreciated.

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