Agile Mentors Podcast

Agile Mentors Podcast

Practical advice for making agile work in the real world

The Agile Mentors podcast is for agilists of all levels. Whether you’re new to agile and Scrum or have years of experience, listen in to find answers to your questions and new ways to succeed with agile.

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#70: The Role of a Leader in Agile with Mike Cohn

October 18, 2023     29 minutes

Today, Brian sits down with Mike Cohn, the CEO of Mountain Goat Software to talk about how leaders can use agile concepts in order to keep their team operating at its best.


Today, on the Agile Mentors Podcast, Brian sits down with Mike Cohn, the CEO of Mountain Goat Software to discuss the role of a leader role in Agile.

Listen in as Mike and Brian share their combined years of knowledge to help leaders use agile concepts to avoid the pitfalls of becoming a manager “behaving badly.”

Listen Now to Discover:

[01:08] - Brian introduces the show and his special guest Mike Cohn here to talk about the role of a leader in the Agile space.
[01:53] - "Don't command, create a culture." Mike shares the difference between Agile leaders and traditional leadership.
[02:59] - The concern about a resurgence of ‘old-school’ leadership and the concerns that brings.
[04:48] - Mike shares how leaders can use agile concepts like self-organization, setting goals, choosing team members, and defining constraints in order to keep the team operating at its best. (Resource: Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions: A Catologue of Modern Engineering Paradigms).
[06:26] - Brian shares options for management to allow teams to figure out how to address problems as a team.
[08:23] - Trust but verify isn't ideal—Mike shares why it’s better to manage by exception, i.e. giving trust upfront and asking questions later.
[11:18] - Did you know the Agile Mentors Podcast is brought to you by Mountain Goat Software? Whether you're looking to get Certified Scrum Master Training or would like ​​Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner® training, Mountain Goat has plenty of options. To see everything Mountain Goat has to offer visit Mountain Goat Software.
[12:01] - Delving into the complexity of the relationship between leadership and employees, especially when it comes to trust, self-organization, and planning.
[12:48] - Mike introduces the “Cone of Uncertainty” concept, sharing that having a plan is not a problem over any horizon, (over three days, three months, or three years) but managers need to accept that the level of precision in the plan should match the timeframe.
[14:23] - Mike refers to an article from Harvard Business Review that highlights the difference in scrutiny between product development deadlines and sales projections, and the need for a more balanced and flexible approach in evaluating both areas.
[16:05] - Language and terminology shape our perception—how the shift from "estimating" to "forecasting" helps facilitate the recognition of uncertainty in future predictions.
[19:12] - Mike shares an anecdote about a client in Kansas City, who wanted him to use the word "forecast" instead of "estimate."
[20:31] - The importance of assessing metric application in a leadership context.
[21:06] - Mike highlights the danger of using "velocity" as a metric for team performance, explaining how subtle pressure on teams can lead to estimate inflation, rendering velocity less reliable for forecasting and more as a tool to pressure (and demotivate) teams.
[24:12] - Brian encourages leaders to reflect on the motivation behind using things like velocity as a metric to measure teams and how this relates to the principles of self-organization in Agile.
[25:22] - How a lack of proper training during role transitions can lead to managers ‘behaving badly,’ despite well-intentioned actions.
[26:45] - A special thank you to Mike Cohn for joining us and sharing his knowledge. If you're interested in further discussions on this topic join us in the Agile Mentors Community where you can access exclusive content, participate in discussions, and attend Q&A calls with Mike and me.
[27:50] - As always we’d like to invite you to subscribe to the Agile Mentors Podcast on Apple Podcasts. Do you have feedback or a great idea for an episode of the show? Great! Just send us an email.

References and resources mentioned in the show:

Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions: A Catologue of Modern Engineering Paradigms
Agile Mentors Podcast from Mountain Goat Software
Subscribe to the Agile Mentors Podcast on Apple Podcasts
Certified Scrum Master Training and Scrum Certification
Certified Scrum Product Owner Training
Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner®
Advanced Certified ScrumMaster®
Mountain Goat Software Certified Scrum and Agile Training Schedule
Join the Agile Mentors Community
Subscribe to the Agile Mentors Podcast on Apple Podcasts

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This episode’s presenters are:

Brian Milner is SVP of coaching and training at Mountain Goat Software. He's passionate about making a difference in people's day-to-day work, influenced by his own experience of transitioning to Scrum and seeing improvements in work/life balance, honesty, respect, and the quality of work.

Mike Cohn, CEO of Mountain Goat Software, is a passionate advocate for agile methodologies. Co-founder of Agile Alliance and Scrum Alliance, he thrives on helping companies succeed with Agile and witnessing its transformative impact on individuals' careers. Mike resides in Northern Idaho with his family, two Havanese dogs, and an impressive hot sauce collection.