Leading the Change – Leadership's Role in Agile Transformations

Steve Langone

Many organizations today are in some way shape or form on their own Agile Journey. Whether starting small and running Agile pilots or even attempting an Agile Transformation, they want the flexibility and business agility Agile methods offer. Many leaders say they want to “be Agile” but often overlook their role in the transformation itself and all the hard work required to get there.

An organization’s leaders, executives, and managers are critical to the success and adoption of the competencies leading to business agility. Successful change demands a pivot in behavior which means it's crucial that leaders develop new mind-sets and capabilities to transform not just their teams and the organization, but themselves as well.

In many organizations, there is one key person who serves as the Agile Transformation Leader. It is only with a solid understanding of this critical role that the transformation will succeed and deliver the promised benefits. Here is what it means to be an Agile Transformation Leader:


The person in the role of Agile Transformation Leader is a change agent helping to champion the organization’s pivot to Agile Methods and new ways of working. This is no small task since this role will help to shape the environment for success. Working across already established organizational silos and collaborating to encourage communication and cooperation is crucial to having this level of change be adopted. Identifying organizational impediments and a plan to systematically address them can only be achieved with the support and inclusion of the organization.


Moving away from command and control is probably the most challenging thing to let go. To enact the level of change necessary requires moving from directing, telling, and commanding to one of curiosity, learning, and adaptation. Enabling teams to problem-solve and fail fast gives them the environment to be the most innovative and productive. It encourages trust, risk taking, and sense of ownership in the methods and the work. Agile Principle #5 sums it up quite nicely:

“Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.”

Leading the Change

While there are many factors to leading an agile transformation, it can be boiled down to 3 key aspects:

  1. Urgency – while the reasons for change are often obvious, leaders proactively champion a better future state and exhibit a “constant sense of excitement” a never-ending sense of new and innovative solutions which fuels continuous improvement.
  2. Vision – leaders communicate why change is needed and do so in ways that inspire, motivate, and engage people.
  3. Empowerment – leaders establish an environment for risk-taking that supports change without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career.


Managers and Leaders are often the biggest impediment to transformation. Successful change demands a pivot in traditional line-management behavior.  While management is transactional focused – doing things right, leadership must be transformational focused – doing the right things. Striking the right balance between these two aspects is crucial because they are equally important.

While leaders can create an environment that encourages high-performing Agile teams to flourish and produce value, they themselves need to go to the front of the change. Leaders do this by investing in their own Agile learning and growth and model leaner ways of thinking and operating so team members will learn from their example, coaching and encouragement.