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Are You Practicing these Five Core Leadership Practices ?

In 2014, I had an interesting conversation over dinner with the CEO of a large office supply organization based out of United States. He had come on a 10-day trip to India to select an Indian offshore company to be his Agile provider for software development services.  My conversation with him took place at the end his trip. And he looked visibly agitated!

He had already met with many top software providers to learn about their ability to deliver high quality software and demonstrate Agile Software Development capabilities.   He was worried how the companies he met that week were saying “yes” to pretty much anything he was asking. He was concerned that they were not being transparent with him. He finally decided to set up his development center in Chile.

Stories like this or stories of customers unhappy with quality of software produced in India is not new. While there is no question about great software being produced by some brilliant development teams in India, majority of service providers are still being differentiated solely based on cost.

These companies typically have top-down and command and control approaches to running businesses. The culture prohibits openness and transparency over keeping customer satisfied. And leaders, bound by the years of practicing the above approaches in these organizations, often become the reason for Agile to not succeed.

While many leaders amongst us are going through transformation (as transformation of leadership has become the need of the hour), I wanted to share five core practices that are  essential for leaders to practice in such organizations in order to enable a change in their style of leadership.

1. Leaders removing impediments of the group they lead on a daily basis

Obstacle BoardThis is practiced daily by the leaders (directors) of a large video technology company in what is called as a management standup. Every day at 11 AM the leaders in this group stand around an obstacle board in Bangalore.The board is located in the teams’ floor so that everyone can know the movement in the board.

Obstacles are automatically moved up from Manager, to Engineering Manager to Director depending on a SLA of how many days stale the impediment is.  Each role of leadership is required to solve the impediments that are listed in their column.

They also maintain an online organizational impediment backlog in JIRA which is an Agile project management tool.

2. Keeping teams stable and empowering teams to make decisions

In Magarpatta IT park in Pune, there is a team called ScrumMatrix. Their management has decided to leave this team as is. Team members get to decide who joins the teams in case there is a vacancy. What’s the outcome, you ask?

This team builds embedded firmware products and they have a complex stack with multiple programming languages. They have been together for five plus year. Today they ship software weekly and all of them can now code in any layer of the product.

3. Removing waste in the organization

These are particularly the three kind of lean wastes – Overburden, Non-Value Add activities, and Uneven or Irregular work for the teams.

A Scrum Master of a healthcare company has worked to remove unwanted meetings and interruptions.

Today the teams in this group do not attend any meeting except the Scrum Meetings, and some design meetings. They all come to work at 9 and leave at 6. Their practice of core hours has removed the waste caused by unplanned work. The team is overall very happy as they practice “If it’s not in the backlog it does not exist

4. Ask More,Tell Less Policy

Instead of solving problems, leaders should ask the right questions that trigger proper behavior in teams.

I have learnt a lot from this leader of a world renowned consulting firm. He works in Gurgaon. As a Director, he does not have an office for himself and instead works with the teams in the team room. I have never seen him hold the center stage. He always has his other members talk or lead in any meeting. If you ask him a question, he would often answer in another question format.

He would always ask positive questions as he understands the 300 people who report to him will react to questions the way they would be asked! He practices Ask More, Tell Less Policy.

5. Trusting teams and letting them directly work with customers.

Our Director friend is a great example of this fifth practice.  All teams in his leadership are encouraged to directly work with global customers.

He has created a place where people are able to speak up openly as well as help each other. They feel safe that their boss will not get upset at them as he is always there to help them think through the problems.  

This ends my thoughts on leadership practices that each one of us could try to adopt and make our transformation true, and change some perceptions too.

Explore more about the constant battle software teams face between Quality and Speed, along with case studies of customers that value Zero Defect Software Development by attending SolutionsIQ’s Leadership Meet in Bangalore India on May 18th at the Hyatt in Bangalore.