Servant Leadership: The Agile Way

Mass Bay Chapter

Johanna Rothman works with companies to improve how they manage their product development. She is the author of Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects, 2nd edition, Agile and Lean Program Management: Scaling Collaboration Across the Organization as well as several other books including the newest: Create Your Successful Agile Project: Collaborate, Measure, Estimate, Deliver. See her blogs and more of her writing at

In more traditional projects, PMI 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.

Instead of “control,” I like to think about guiding or steering a project. Agile project managers exercise servant leadership, which includes guiding and steering. Here are three ways an agile project manager can exercise servant leadership to guide projects to a great conclusion.

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. 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 two weeks,…

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