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August 04, 2017

Leadership, Kanban and Agile 2017

2 mins read

I’m really looking forward to Agile2017 and am thrilled to be speaking there. I’ll be giving a variant of my talk on Kanban and Distributed Cognition at 2:00 PM on Thursday August 10th. Here’s a preview of it and some of the other things I’m looking forward to.

Leadership at Every Level

David Marquet will give the opening keynote and build on the leadership style espoused in his book, Turn The Ship Around! Excella’s been experimenting with it—specifically the concept of intent-based leadership—on some of the teams I work with. It’s going well and we’ve seen positive results. I’m excited to see how David presents his concepts in person and whether he has any new tips we can employ.

The idea of leadership at every level fits perfectly with Kanban. In Kanban, one of the most important mechanisms is a visualization that represents the current state of work in the system. That shared view triggers acts of leadership throughout the team. With a better sense of what’s going on around them, individuals ask relevant questions—such as how they can help with a particular story—and make informed decisions—like deciding how best to focus their efforts.

Developing this shared sense of what to do and when is at the heart of distributed cognition. In an earlier blog post, I called it a “broad cognitive—or sense-making—activity that is greater than the sum of the individual parts.” Fostering leadership across the team, and at all levels of the hierarchy, is a core piece of that.

Object-Oriented Leadership

I’m also really looking forward to my colleague Dan Davis’s talk about how object-oriented design has informed his approach to leadership. We’ve talked about it a few times, and it’s been just enough to make me really want to hear the rest of his thoughts when he presents at 9:00 AM on Thursday August 10th.

A great parallel that excites me is the idea of keeping the decision-making close to the information. In software, we call this encapsulation. In organizational theory, it’s the subsidiarity principle. I remember diligently refactoring to ensure things were encapsulated correctly as my code base evolved. Now, I try to do the same for our teams. As structures change and teams grow, we need to constantly reassess.

Allowing decisions at the lowest level possible ensures that decision-makers have the most up-to-date information and the best insight. Kanban systems can help with this, by highlighting the problem and creating a shared sense of the available information. Just like organizational structures and a code base, Kanban systems need constant revision to ensure they are the best fit for the current context. I’ll talk more about how to do that in my talk on Kanban and Distributed Cognition at Agile2017. I hope to see you there!

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