2 minutes with Leila Rao
31 May 2019
1) How did you come to agile/business agility?
I was fortunate to have worked with Lean process improvement efforts in the healthcare industry very early in my career, where I learned not just techniques such as value stream mapping and A3 problem solving but also mindsets such as optimizing the whole and leveraging people’s ability to innovate and improve.
Subsequently, I became a product owner for Scrum team developing electronic health care systems. I could recognize the values shared by Lean and Agile and that many of techniques and approaches were complementary, so I’ve always had that Lean-Agile perspective. And when Business Agility became a recognized domain, it was very familiar to me because I had already been working in this space. And now the knowledge area is growing because many people are practising and sharing their experiences.
2) What's your current job title?
I started my own consulting company, AgileXtended, about three years ago, so officially President.
I’m also the co-founder of Lean In Agile (LIA), which Padmini Nidimolu and I created to increase the value and visibility of women in the Lean and Agile community. LIA has multiple initiatives to fulfil this mission, including LIA100, where we recognize women who are thought-leaders and have made impact on their community, and LIA NextGen, which applies Lean and Agile principles to embed values such as self-discovery, resilience and empowerment in the next generation of women, from elementary school age through university students.
3) What do you actually do?
My work involves coaching, consulting and facilitating with wide range of organizations so that are better positioned to respond and thrive in these times of change and uncertainty. It’s recognizing an organization’s unique value proposition – their people, their way of working, their mission – and leveraging it so they can continue to innovate and improve.
It’s often about helping organizations identify and visualize their enterprise value stream so that they can make targeted changes with minimal effort for improved decision making, faster response time and more sustainable approach to getting the most from people and processes. This approach helps organization reach a new level of maturity in about 90 days, and the ownership to maintain the new standard sustainably.
As LIA co-founder, I use a similar approach in helping individuals and groups discover their one value proposition so that they can be their best selves and help their communities to improve.
4) How have you pushed agile through your organisation?
I use a pull, not push system for moving towards a more agile way of working. If I can show how an agile technique or approach will help not just realize values such as minimizing waste, or improved quality, but make someone’s work easier, then people are more likely to embrace this change. That requires a very pragmatic approach to agility that is accessible, fun, adaptable and relevant; agile coaching for me is about extending an open invitation so that people can actively opt-in. Sustainable agility is possible only when our approach and our actions show that we respect people that do the work and that we value both the people and the work.
5) What's the biggest issue you see in your community at the moment?
People. Agile has been successful so quickly and comprehensively that we haven’t always paid enough attention to the people who work within agile organizations.
For example, delighting the customer is an obvious value, but there is a tendency to overlook that the pre-requisite is to delight your workers first.
Empowered, engaged people will build a culture of exceptional customer relationships.
We need to invest in shaping organizations whose fundamental priority is to ensure that people feel valued and that their work is valuable. Everything else – customer satisfaction, innovation, quality, increased responsiveness – will emerge from a more human-centred approach.
6) Recommended book?
Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline is a classic for good reason. It’s grounded my agile transformation work into a broader context of organizational structure and value. Not only are the five disciplines -- Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Shared vision, and Team learning -- quite relevant to Business Agility, but his approach of guiding and nurturing change is quintessentially the agile mindset. As Senge said, “People don't resist change. They resist being changed” – an approach that cultivates business agility that is fit for an organization’s purpose, whatever that purpose might be.
Leila Rao is an enterprise Lean-Agile consultant optimizing the ability of organizations to discover, deliver and realize value iteratively. She integrates Lean values of systems thinking and optimizing the whole with Agile practices such as iterative delivery for sustainable organizational change.
She is now applying the same expertise to increase the value and visibility of women through self-empowerment and structural realignment as the co-founder of Lean In Agile.
Leila is the creator of the Compass for Agility framework, which will be published in a book of the same title this fall. The framework integrates principles from design thinking, lean, facilitation and agile so that organizations can shape their own compass to survive and thrive amidst constant change.
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