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Are you an Agile Leader? – Nine questions for people managers

Picture by angus mcdiarmidOne of the frequent obstacle encountered by project teams when transitioning to Agile is the resistance of their manager. When an executive declares that the organization is moving to Agile, many team members look forward to working differently – that is until their manager gets involved.

As an organizational coach, I often use a simple questionnaire to assess the level of agility of the managers I deal with. Below are nine questions to help determine how Agile the manager I’m talking to actually is.

Go ahead – try the short test.

True or False?

  1. To get the best results, it is preferable to properly control the activities of the team members
  2. A process that is not well defined at the outset will always give sub-optimal results
  3. To reduce the loss of productivity, it is preferable to isolate team members in cubicles and use email as the preferred a mode of communication
  4. A team of experts with specialized knowledge is always more efficient than a multi-disciplinary team
  5. The best tools and processes are those selected by the organization and standardized for all groups
  6. It is generally preferable to thoroughly document what we people do even if it reduces their speed
  7. Money is the best way to keep individuals motivated
  8. It is more important to follow the plan than to adapt to changes
  9. A signed contract is better than an informal agreement to ensure cooperation between different departments

How did you do?

If you answered True:

  • 9 times (out of 9): As you enter an Agile transition, your current management paradigms are likely to be severely tested, but with the right mindset and the willingness to change you could be surprised. You may want to take this test again a few months after the beginning of the transition to see how much you have progressed.
  • Between 5 and 8 times (out of 9): You have some of the right reflexes but you haven’t fully grasped the concepts behind Agile. With some work and an open mind, you could modify your leadership style and eventually become an Agile manager.
  • Between 1 and 4 times (out of 9): You’re almost there. You are comfortable with most of the Agile concepts but still need to fine-tune some of your reflexes to make it to the top of the chart.
  • 0 time (out of 9): Congratulations! You seem to understand the Agile approach and the underlying concepts very well. If you behave the way you answered these questions, you are an exemplary Agile leader. Send me an email, I certainly would like to hear from you.
  1. I think the word “always” should have been limited or omitted because some of those statements could have changed sufficiently in meaning if it were. But then again, maybe not. Maybe that thought presupposes decent/acceptable understanding of the Agile approach.

    May 17, 2010
    • Fair point Macel. Indeed, removing the word “always” would probably have made it more challenging for people to pick the correct answer. I will keep that in mind for future questionnaires.

      Thanks for your comment.

      May 18, 2010
  2. Great quiz; not only are these questions are a nice simple way to assess our understanding of agile, but also a way to reassure us that we are on the right track when we find ourselves defending our practices from outside groups asking these questions of the project.


    May 18, 2010
    • Glad you enjoyed the quiz. Thanks for posting a comment Mike.

      May 18, 2010
  3. I’d like to point you one thing. A manager who is working in complete chaos would probably rank 0 out 9. I think these questions are addressed more on verification whether one is process-centric or procedure-centric rather than on judging agile-maturity.

    I would say that completely chaotic team is at least as far from reasonable agile organization as the team following some heavy-process.

    May 18, 2010
    • Thank you for your comment Pawel.

      As you can guess, this quiz is by no mean “scientific”. It is meant to open conversations between people managers who are embarking on an agile transition and their coach. Do you also use a quiz to asses the maturity of the team and their manager?

      May 18, 2010
  4. I don’t mean to be overly critical, but your survey seems to have a strong implication that documentation and standardization must be sacrificed for speed and agility. I don’t agree that this is what agile is about. If anything, documentation makes organizations more agile. The problem is the process that is generally used to delivery that documentation. I think what you are really saying is that it is silly to stop working on delivering solutions in order to fool around in Microsoft Word for a week documenting what you’ve already delivered. Yes, of course I would agree with that. But that does not mean that documentation is the problem. Many tools will document for you as part of the delivery process.

    Take a look at Forrester’s new report on Agile BI. Balanced Insight sponsored free reprints:,m

    May 25, 2010

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