Thursday, September 21, 2017

SPaMCast Interview: How did you develop your philosophy for successful Agile leadership?

Jeff, How has your personal journey informed what you’ve come to believe is important for successful Agile leadership? Tom Cagley, SPaMCast

[Editor's Note: Over the coming weeks, this CMMI Appraiser will be sharing excerpts from a recent conversation with Tom Cagley on the Software Process and Measurement Cast (SPaMCast) about leadership, and whether leadership is more or less important in today’s Agile world. Listen to the full interview at SPaMCast 456.]

Tom. I don’t know if we've ever talked about this, but I started my career as a musician. My first degree was in classical music. I started my career as a classical musician, and for the first ten years after college, I played in orchestras all around the world.

Playing orchestras, I learned a heck of a lot about self-organization. I learned about excellence, practicing, process, procedures, being Agile, using my ear to adjust constantly, and to improve myself iteratively and incrementally. I’ve given a couple of talks on this, about how having classical music training aligns so well with the current movement of organizational excellence.

Being in an orchestra was my first exposure to all of these things that I later came to know as agile values.

When I entered the computer science business, I almost forgot about my experience as a classical musician. I didn’t really make the connection at first, when I was 30 years old, about how these two things were so similar. But as my career progressed, I started to really make these connections and realized that this notion of self-organization and leadership were intertwined, and that iterative, incremental learning needed to be tied with discipline.

This is where I see a lot of Agile organizations missing the boat. They miss tying in with discipline. See, you’ve got this triangle of leadership, self-organization and discipline. These three things need together like a symphony, in a very orchestrated way, in order for a company to really see the all of the benefits of Agile and fly to the next level. The organizations that have this figured out really do experience success beyond what they ever imagined. 

So, Tom, I’ve come to where I am today because of those experiences. Starting out way back in 1980, when I graduated music school, and then when I went back to get a degree in Computer Science, I have been following this path in my career. It led me to become a leader in several software development organizations, and it taught me to focus on values and self-organization and real leadership.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t enjoy focusing on numbers and schedules and some of the more administrative things. I accommodate that by surrounding myself with people that are great at that. I think of myself as the conductor and they are the members of the orchestra that make things happen. I have this orchestral metaphor in my head all the time and I think that has had a lot to do where I ended up today.

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I hope my readers have enjoyed this segment of my interview with Tom Cagley on SPaMCast #456. We'll be talking more about leadership, and whether leadership is more or less important in today’s Agile world, in the next segment. Please check back soon.

For those interested in a deeper dive into learning about Agile Leadership, you are invited to join me and other Agile leaders at The 2017 Agile Leadership Summit, hosted by on September 22nd in Washington, DC. I look forward to meeting many of you in person for the first time!

Click here to register for The 2017 Agile Leadership Summit.

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Jeff Dalton is a Certified SCAMPI Lead Appraiser, Certified CMMI Instructor, author and consultant with years of real-world experience with the CMMI in all types of organizations. Jeff has taught thousands of students in CMMI training classes and has received an aggregate satisfaction score of 4.97 out of 5 from his students.

Visit for more information about engineering strategy, performance innovation, software process improvement and running a successful CMMI program.

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