Servant Leadership: The Agile Way

Johanna Rothman works with companies to improve how they manage their product development--to maximize management and technical staff productivity and to improve product quality. She is the author of Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects and the Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It: Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management. She is the author of the forthcoming Agile and Lean Program Management: Collaborating Across the Organization. See her blogs and more of her writing at

In more traditional projects, the Project Management Institute has a notion that you can “control” a project. I have never found that to be true. Of course, I never quite used a waterfall approach--I have used feature-driven approaches more often than I used a serial approach.

But the idea that I could somehow control a project? I never bought that. Which brings us to the idea of what an agile project manager might do.

Here are three examples of servant leadership in action with respect to the team, the product owner and management.

Agile Project Managers Serve the Team
In agile, the project manager serves the team. The project manager might arrange for the resources a team needs, such as lab time, a team meeting room or even desks and chairs.

During one of my projects, the technical leader had a back problem. His previous manager had scrounged a desk and chair from storage. That was good because he had a place to work. It was bad because the desk and chair didn’t fit him.

I had two important jobs: find this guy a desk and chair that fit him, and aid him in helping the rest of the project team understand what he was thinking about and working on. I was afraid--as he was--that he might have to take significant time to manage his health.

It took me two weeks to convince the Furniture Police that he needed a different desk and chair. For those …

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"If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve"

- General William T. Sherman

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