Certified Agile Leadership 1 – My Experience

by Valerie McLean

Recently I gained my Certified Agile Leadership 1 from Scrum Alliance. I attended Michael Sahota’s course in London with around 20 other budding agile leaders, over 2 days. I’ve had some time to let the learning set in – to say it was an enlightening experience is putting it lightly! I’ll try my best to sum it up in a coherent way.

First of all, how does Michael himself describe his courses? It says this on his website:

HIS CLASSES ARE CONTROVERSIAL AND UNIQUE BUT THAT’S WHAT ALLOWS HIS AGILE STUDENTS TO FLOURISH BY SHOWING THEM THE MISSING PIECES AND COMMON ORGANISATIONAL CHALLENGES YOU CAN GO BACK AND IMPLEMENT IMMEDIATELY.

It certainly was controversial and unique. Before attending the course, participants were told to leave their Assumptions, Ego and Attachment to ideas at home. That in itself tells you that you are going to need an open mind to get the most from this course. The first day started with a short meditation and sharing with the group. This set the scene for what was a soul searching couple of days, with lots of meditation between delivery of course content.

Half way through the first day, Michael asked if anyone would describe themselves as an agile ‘evangelist’. I proudly raised my hand as that is absolutely how I would describe myself. I have seen first-hand the benefits agile ways of working can bring to teams and organisations and it is something I feel really passionate about – hence going on the course. Imagine my surprise when Michael said I needed to ‘kill’ that part of me and make sure it never comes back….

This shocked me to the core, if I came here to learn about agile leadership, how can I kill the agile enthusiast within me?! We were all assured before the course started that we may have moments like this, where we doubt and don’t want to believe, but we were promised that if we kept an open mind we would be able to process by the end of the course.

By the end of day one, I was still in shock but I was willing to be open to the reasoning – Agile should not be the end goal. It is a means to an end, but it might not be the best or only way to reach the end goal. We need to look deeper than this, why do we think Agile is the answer before we even start? What are we looking to achieve? Once we look at the answers to these questions, we often see where Agile could be useful, but before we know this we are blindly going somewhere with no real destination in mind apart from being more ‘Agile’.

My notes from my 'a-ha' moment.
My notes from my ‘a-ha’ moment.

The evening was a good chance to debrief with some course mates, we challenged each other and discuss what we had learned and uncovered that day. We looked ahead to the second day with a hope that it would answer some of the questions we had, or help us to deepen our understanding of some of the things we had been introduced to.

By the end of day two, my overall word to sum up the day was ‘Ready’. I genuinely felt like I had gained some real usable tools and insights in a way that I would never have thought of before.

With Agile now firmly not the answer in my brain, I tried to process why – and I recognised the following: we spend so much time looking a tactics and strategy for ‘doing Agile’ that we can often forget or ignore the bigger picture of ‘being Agile’. The mindset that goes behind agile ways of working and the culture that brings to an organisation,  is so much more important than scrum or kanban.

Image by Bob Hartman
Image by Bob Hartman

It is that mindset, rather than the tactics, that a lot of companies who try to adopt agile actually want, they just don’t realise it at the start. Once we get in behind the reasons for an ‘Agile transformation’, we will often find that using agile tactics could be a way to achieve their results, but we also need to ensure that the leaders who want to make the change happen are willing to lead the change and lead by example.

And more than all of that, it’s about the way you communicate with people, not just the things you implement. In order to implement effective change, you need to leave your own personal agenda at the door and allow others to do the same. You can only take them on a journey when they are willing and ready. You can’t push it.

You’re maybe now reading this thinking, ‘I still don’t get it, what’s all that got to do with Agile?’ That’s just it, the course had very little to do with ‘doing Agile’. It was much more than that, it was about ‘being Agile’, but only if its appropriate. Confused? I’m not surprised. Go on the course and open your mind up to new possibilities, I found it enlightening, eye opening and game changing, but not in a way I can easily describe.

Maybe sometime in the future I’ll put it in to more coherent words.

this post first appeared here