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Leadership Principles for Mastering Agility in a Disciplined Environment


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No matter the industry, PM leaders need to recognize that agility and discipline are a continuum. Most organizations see this as one or the other, which is what makes it so difficult to move fluidly from one end to the other. You have to be comfortable living in both realities and position your organization, whether it be your company, division, department or team, somewhere in the middle in order to find the right balance of agility and discipline.
Each end of the continuum has a very different structure and culture, requiring a different set of skills to lead and manage in each environment. Achieving balance in the continuum demands having the breadth of knowledge, as well as versatility and dexterity, allowing PM leaders to seamlessly shift from a rigid, traditional approach, to being able to be responsive and make quick decisions.
At the organizational level, creating an environment that needs both predictable planning and the ability to implement with agility can be realized through the Contingency Framework, developed by Barry Boehm and Richard Turner (2004). As illustrated in Exhibits 2 and 3, the PM leader must assess all the environmental factors (worker skill levels, consequences of failure, stability of requirements, team size and organization’s culture) to help determine if disciplined or agile is the best methodology.
In the software development example below (Exhibit 2), the ratings for each factor fall close to the center, which means the PM leader should create an agile environment where:

  • Decisions can be made quickly within a small, highly skilled team.
  • The team expects change and innovation to drive the process in a somewhat chaotic environment.
  • Failure is encouraged in order to learn and innovate.
  • The consequences of failure are financially related with a moderate amount of risk involved should the project fail completely.

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