Peter Drucker understood agile leadership and agility before it even existed!

Management and leadership in the 21st century need to be significantly different or businesses will be left behind. People recognize this and management is slowing changing from what has been known as “Taylorism” or “scientific management” to something that has a variety of names, but the easiest one for me to relate to is “agile leadership.”

I remember Certified Scrum Trainer and Coach, Pete Behrens, describing the agile leadership section of the Certified Scrum Coach application by saying something like, “We want coaches that understand agile leadership is both a verb and a noun.” What he meant is we often think of agile leadership as a noun and list behaviors and patterns that identify a style we call agile leadership. As a verb he meant we want leaders that actively lead organizations and people in agile ways. We want there to be evidence of doing Agile (verb) so that we can see the identifiable Agile result (noun).

Drucker-portrait-bkt_1014Famed management guru Peter F. Drucker understood this and started fighting it way before the world was actually ready for it. While Drucker passed away in 2005, his legacy lives on in a variety of ways, including the annual Drucker Management Forum which in 2015 was sponsored in part by the Scrum Alliance. Drucker’s legacy outlived him. His ideas are standing the test of time and have actually become more important in the 21st century as the speed of change in industries, markets, and business models are increasing at rates beyond anything experienced in prior history.

Lately I’ve been reflecting on various Drucker quotes and how they align so perfectly with what we currently think of as agility and agile leadership. For example, one famous quote is:

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

The following quote was written many years later:

Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.

Many of you recognize the second quote as the 10th principle behind the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development” more commonly called just the “Agile Manifesto.” Of course the authors of the Agile Manifesto may have read similar quotes from other authors, including Antoine de Saint Exupéry, L’Avion who said, “It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.” Getting more modern, Lean Startup has the concept of the “Minimum Viable Product.” All of these are very similar thoughts.

What amazes me is that Peter Drucker wasn’t taking a product point of view; instead he was taking a management point of view! Think about this statement in management terms for a moment. He wasn’t being obvious by saying we should spend time efficiently creating something people wouldn’t use. He was saying we should examine everything we DO and make sure we aren’t DOING something that shouldn’t be done at all! That’s actually kind of mind blowing when I think about it.

For example, how many of us are really efficient at reading all kinds of news on the web (I’ll raise my hand on this one!)? And how many of those with your hands raised should be spending more time exercising (I grudgingly keep my hand in the air)? What, that’s not a good example because it isn’t work related? Ok, how about this one: How many of you are managers that efficiently generate metrics about your team? That might be good, but here’s the kicker: how many of you with your hands up actually have metrics that are accurate AND actually can be used to confirm or change behavior in a meaningful way? I’ll do another blog entry on a Drucker quote about metrics in the future, but for now let me just give some data from the Certified ScrumMaster courses I teach: Having had several thousand people in my courses answer those same questions, I have observed a very small percentage of people actually have accurate and meaningful metrics that confirm or change behavior. In other words, most of our metrics stink, are not useful, or worse – they are misused! If that’s the case, why should we be generating them at all? Please don’t take this to say that I think all metrics are useless. I don’t think that at all, but I do think the majority of what we measure is useless because the data is inaccurate, non-objective, biased, gamed, or simply that we don’t use the results effectively or correctly.

When Agile For All works with companies, we walk them through something I’ll call the “Agile For All Way.” I’ll admit, that’s a self-serving name, but the concepts boil down to treating companies as unique in what they do, while recognizing their problems are rarely unique. Part of what we do is to help organizations understand everything they do relative to delivering value. It is a rare company that couldn’t drop significant amounts of work they believe is important, but actually doesn’t contribute to delivering anything of value. There are many feelings that come into play when we do this, and the biggest are fear and loss of control. Reactions at this point in a transformation always fascinate me because while mentally people see that something is not valuable, they are so attached to it they can’t give it up. I understand that, and I’m very empathetic to their feelings, but at the same time I know that breaking that bond for the first time will make everything easier.

So my challenge to you, delivered through Peter Drucker’s quote: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all” is to take a hard look at what you are doing as part of your job. Be particularly concerned with things you do habitually, or things you do “because it’s always been done that way.” Find the things that are being done really efficiently and don’t need to be done at all! I often say, “Doing Scrum is the easy part, thinking in an agile way is the hard part!” This may be your first step toward changing how you think, and by so doing, you will be living the verb “agile leadership” as a step toward showing others the “agile leadership” noun in you.

I’m hoping to have a few more blog entries about Drucker quotes in the coming months. If there is one you find particularly appealing, please leave a comment.

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