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Book Review: The Human Side of Agile, Gil Broza

Servant Leadership is a term used to describe how the leaders in an organisation can make themselves available to team members, guiding them and helping them on a journey to fulfilment. They are not leveraging power to exert influence on the team, rather they are giving power to the team.

A really simple example of this comes up almost daily in the Easy Agile team. We start the day with coffee and a daily huddle. Our 'opportunity teams' sync up on what's good, what they are up to today, and any blockers. Dave and I, as the founders of the business, are there to step in immediately following the daily huddle and remove any of those blockers.

In short, we want the team to move as fast as possible and we want to put them before any other events on our calendar. Remove the blocker, then move on.


Gil Broza has been writing about leadership in agile environments for over ten years. His 2012 book The Human Side of Agile encourages leaders to step into a 'servant leader' mindset.

Some of the highlights you'll explore as you read the book include:

  • The recent shift for knowledge workers from a traditional 3P's approach used in the Industrial Era (Process-Product-People) to the Agile methodology (People-Product-Process). We're focused on the people first and foremost.
  • Putting People first means dealing with emotions, passion, conduct, resistance, habits and blind spots. I could write a whole other recommended book list on these topics alone!
  • No matter how technical the system you deliver, you must deal with the people who define, build, deliver and maintain that system.

Gil talks about the role of the Agile Team Leader (ATL). In my experience this is typically a role that someone takes on, not a job title. This person does not manage or control the work, rather she facilitates the interactions and activities of the team so they can deliver their best work most effectively.

The 'agile team leader', be they are tech lead or product owner, sits in that role of servant leader. They support the team and help the team grow and flourish without the need for a reporting hierarchy. They connect the team and their work with the rest of the organisation, identifies root causes and stops small problems from growing into big ones.

At Easy Agile Dave and I fill that role of the 'agile team leader' today, and we have emerging leaders at various levels in the company too which is super exciting.


Being a servant leader requires a shift in the interaction with a team, for example some common questions may be:

  • What do you need? How can I help?
  • How are we tracking? Are there any blockers?
  • What are the risks? What can we do to increase our chances of success?
  • What else is happening that I should know about?


A few things to keep in mind if you are new to servant leadership:


  • Help minimise distractions to the team
  • Protect the team from undue pressure from external stakeholders
  • Foster collaboration within the team
  • Hold the team accountable to deliverables
  • Support personal growth and development
  • Unblock the team and enable them to get the job done


  • Ensure the flow of business value → backlog is stocked with valuable and ordered items for the team's consumption
  • Maintain alignment between tactical executions and strategic intent
  • Keep stakeholders in the loop → invite them to sprint demos and planned meetings to get their input on an evolving product, keep them informed about changes, manage their expectations since they will probably not see all their requests implemented.
  • Co-ordinate externally if the project is dependent on external teams


  • Assume process stewardship → the team owns the process which they inspect and adapt in retrospectives and on other occasions.
  • Remove impediments → Monitor/improve
  • Manage knowledge, information sources and artifacts
  • Facilitate user story mapping and backlog grooming sessions
  • Support organisational agility


  • Secure the project sponsors' support and establish a suitable team
  • Kick off the effort with a story mapping session, PI planning, etc
  • Make sure the team understands that continuous risk management is everybody's business
  • Report needed information regularly


In short, this is an eight year old book from which many folks can still learn a lot of lessons. We're not all maturing at the same rate on our agile journeys, and there is a lot of perspective we can pull on to help us accelerate our transformations.


Nick Muldoon is Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Easy Agile. He previously worked at Atlassian as a Product Manager for GreenHopper / Jira Agile and at Twitter coaching product and engineering leaders to be servant leaders.

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