The Need for Ruthless Prioritization in Agile Leadership




Organizational Agility
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Hong Sun
Management Consultant, Canada

The Need for Ruthless Prioritization in Agile Leadership

One of the most essential aspects of agile working is ruthless prioritization. By focusing on the few things that matter most to the customers and the business, an organization can maximize its benefits and minimize its costs. According to Hayward, three things are most important to achieve a high level of ruthless prioritization by leaders to establish greater agility in their organizations:
  1. BE THE PRODUCT OWNER: Be clear, involve others, let go and give people space to make it happen.
    The role of Product Owner in Scrum has three main responsibilities:
    • Provide a vision of what is to be built;
    • Understand the customers to anticipate their needs; and
    • Manage the product backlog by proper prioritization.
    Similarly, when an agile leader has a clear vision and is really in tune with the customers, he can provide the prioritization that enables others to act quickly, effectively and collaboratively, just as a product owner does in his Scrum team.
    To be the product owner, the leader needs to empower people closer to the customers to make prioritization decisions while consistently communicating the organization's vision in a crystal clear way, so that local team's priorities and actions are serving higher-level priorities of the organization, and that priorities at all levels are well aligned with the overall vision and purpose of the whole enterprise.
  2. STICK TO THE MAIN THING: Identify with others the top priorities for the customers and the business, and focus attention on these.
    If a leader conveys a lucid vision of what needs to be achieved each week, each month, each year, he can empower others to deliver it with fervour. The leader needs to be explicit and clear on the "main thing" and to keep everyone focused on its achievement, both in the short and longer term. What is the main thing tomorrow? Focus on doing that and do not move to other tasks until it has been completed. What is the main thing for the longer term for the organization? Focus resources and efforts on achieving it, and cut out as many activities as possible on anything else.
    To stick to the main thing:
    • The leader can start by listing out all the tasks needed to achieve the vision, and doing this with his team members to create a shared list that draws insight from everyone.
    • Then the team can prioritize the list together, using as the main criteria what is of most value to their customers, and what will add most value to their business. The goal is to find the top priorities that currently represent the best fit with these criteria. The priorities will change over time, therefore the team needs to review the priority list from time to time to ensure its relevance.
    • Once the team has an agreed list, they need to focus, and only focus on the top tasks until "the main things" are delivered with success.
  3. CREATE AN OBSESSION WITH SIMPLICITY: stop doing things of lower value and insist on simplicity through careful design.
    The legacy of governance processes and procedures in an organization can become a force in its own right. What the organization needs is an obsession with simplicity that is intent on doing only what is necessary.
    How to obtain simplicity?
    • The most straightforward way to achieve greater simplicity is to stop doing things. A leader needs to remove overly complex processes, procedures, and reports in his organization; he also needs to encourage people to stop doing redundant activities.
    • To gain a simpler view of how the organization could operate with more efficiency, the leader can seek help from an external view of the organization by hiring an outside strategist or working with an experienced consultant.
    • In the meantime, the leader himself needs to set an example for simplicity by stopping all unnecessary activities, so that others will soon follow. "Complexity springs up quickly where there is a lack of careful design; simplicity, in contrast, takes effort, art and practice."
Source: Hayward, S. (2018). The Agile Leader. London, UK: Kogan Page.

   

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