Leadership Lessons from Agile with Scott Downs

As a perspective and a frame of reference for approaching creative work, Agile has its origins in software development and leaders around the world are now finding that Agile resonates in a much wider range of contexts, from entrepreneurship to personal and organizational growth.

Where it succeeds, Agile seems to bring benefits of faster delivery, higher customer satisfaction, faster learning, enhanced individual and team innovation, and stronger team engagement. Because of its focus on valuing people, collective intelligence, direct human contact and focused learning, I believe it is a crucial “foundation stone” for next-generation leadership.

The Agile way of working takes much of its inspiration from the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, written by seventeen leaders of the software development industry, dating from February 2001.

The core of the Manifesto says:

  “We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.

    Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

    That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

The Manifesto’s authors also offer twelve very human, humane and creative principles that govern their work. You can find these principles, as well as the core Manifesto and information about its history and signatories here.

With an outpouring of content about Agile and the frameworks connected to it, the vast global community of Agilists debate passionately and continually about what Agile means, what it is and is not, how it is succeeding and how it is failing.  

As a recovering conventional manager, I have personally taken these six key lessons from Agile.

  1. Creating contexts that value and liberate people
  2. Making and “shipping” vs planning and perfecting
  3. Setting one’s course, but committing only incrementally and iteratively
  4. Finding and holding a sustainable pace
  5. Being a learner – learning to inspect and adapt
  6. Bringing a big vision to life by carving it up into small chunks of work

Read Downs’ full explanation of these lessons here.

I own that this perspective is a personal one, and that others approaching Agile will learn and value different things. My own learnings, though, have brought big changes to the way I look at leadership and organizational life. I believe that as part of an Agile ethos, they have the potential to transform leadership for many people and many organizations, to the great benefit of global society in the 21st century.

About the Author

Scott Downs is a widely experienced COO and catalyst for creative Agile cultures and great Agile leadership teams. He received his BA in Business and an MBA in Finance and Accounting from the University of Chicago. He is interested in: deep independent and on-the-job experience of post-conventional and traditional perspectives on personal and organisational growth, psychology, leadership, product management and business strategy. His vision: Weaving an Agile ethos with other strands of next-generation leadership thinking and practice.

Leadership Lessons from Agile with Scott Downs

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