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Why agilists are heading toward AI - guest post from Pete Behrens

© Agile Leadership Journey image of fork in road with sign of Agile and AI Guest writer and founder of the Agile Leadership Journey Pete Behrens explores AI, how it relates to leadership today and the apparent Gold Rush.


In a recent article (Reimagine Agile? How About Return to Agile!), I questioned the choice of language within our Agile Community in reimagining agile with a counterproposal of Returning to Agile. In that article, I described a fork in the road from long ago where many within the Agile movement wandered and likely got lost in the antithesis of the foundational values and principles of the movement. 

That was the past, this is the future.

In this article, I am proposing that we now find ourselves at another fork in the road, possibly rendering Agile inconsequential altogether, or not. That fork in the road is Generative AI, and it’s not just going to split the Agile Community, it’s going to split ALL communities.

The motivation for this article was sparked by a recent online interaction following the publication of our latest Relearning Leadership Podcast episode, AI for Leaders with Henrik Kniberg. The episode, which aimed to better understand the landscape of AI relating to leadership, inadvertently stirred a conversation that extended beyond the intended focus. A (perceived critical) comment emerged, questioning the sudden pivot of “us” agilists towards AI, as if the domain of artificial intelligence was a reserved territory, untouched by the principles of agility. This remark, while seemingly misplaced, ignited my curiosity and it led me to ponder the deeper reasons behind the Agile community's gravitation towards AI.

The aim of this article is not merely to outline the 'what' but to deeply explore the 'why' behind the Agile community's pivot towards AI. Why at all? Why now? What has AI presented that aligns with, challenges, or even enhances the Agile philosophy? And most importantly, how does this shift impact the future trajectory for our Agile community? This exploration is personal for me, driven by both curiosity, passion and a commitment to understanding the evolving landscape of Agile in the age of artificial intelligence.

An AI Gold Rush

As we dive into the heart of this modern-day gold rush towards Generative AI, it's essential to recognize the profound impact and allure AI holds across all sectors of business. Much like the gold rush of the 1800s, today's rush to AI embodies a quest for innovation and competitive advantage, drawing prospectors from every imaginable industry towards its seemingly limitless potential.

Personal Story: This phenomenon hit home for me last summer during a leadership workshop I facilitated for 50 startup leaders in Boulder, CO. The timing coincided with the release of GPT-4, a milestone in AI development that sent (and continues to send) ripples through the business world. The diversity of the companies present—from financial services to community organizations to tech startups—mirrored the industry at large. Yet, despite their varied backgrounds, there was a unanimous pivot in conversation towards integrating AI into their products and services. Sadly (for me), even their appetite for leadership development waned in the wake of AI's promise. This shift in focus was both startling and revealing, underscoring the magnetic pull AI exerted on these leaders. And it was a wakeup call for me!

Today (Feb 2024), the integration of AI touches every aspect of our lives, from the way we manage our finances to how we communicate with friends. Its influence spans beyond the realms of product and technology, infiltrating every corner of our professional and personal lives. This widespread integration has prompted a surge in curiosity among leaders across all industries, all seeking to understand the implications of AI on their leadership and organizational practices.

The mission of Agile Leadership Journey is to build better leaders amid complexity and rapid change, a commitment that remains steadfast in the face of evolving technological landscapes. Our formation was in fact inspired by the previous fork in the road we call “Agile”. Now, as we engage with leaders, a recurring theme emerges: the profound impact of AI on leadership itself along with the agile ways we work. 

The influence of AI touches leadership and agility (along with everything else) – affecting team roles, structures and dynamics, process guidelines and facilitation, technical practices, data security and ethics, and the very essence of agile frameworks. This broad-reaching impact underscores the demand and necessity for agile practitioners and leaders to adapt to the evolving needs prompted by AI. While definitive answers are still forthcoming, our commitment is to embark on this exploratory journey alongside them, navigating the complexities of AI together.

AI, Agile and Change

In a recent conversation with Robert Austin and Jim Highsmith, Rob surmised that the interaction with AI is fundamentally agile. He noted that the prompt, response, prompt, response interaction between a human and AI mirrors the inspect and adapt notion of agility. This sparked a wonder in me – Is AI, or at least our human interaction with AI, inherently agile? And what, overall, is the relationship between AI and Agile?

The inception of Agile over two decades ago was a wakeup call, a recognition that traditional methodologies were no longer sufficient in the face of rapidly evolving business and technical landscapes. An Agile community emerged as a home for those seeking better ways to deal with and manage change and improve value delivery. This meant changing our organizations top to bottom including mindset and culture and the structures, policies and metrics shaped by them.

Now, with the advent of Generative AI and the seismic shifts heralded by the release of GPT-4, the velocity of change has accelerated exponentially, thrusted into overdrive, challenging us to reconsider our approaches to adaptability and responsiveness. Generative AI has not just turned up the dial on change—it has shattered the scale altogether. The capabilities we see unfurling before us today, while rooted in three plus decades of AI research and development, represent a watershed moment (Here’s a great video sharing the longer history of Generative AI - ChatGPT 30-Year History). 

This juncture raises pivotal questions about the relationship between AI and Agile. At their core, both AI and Agile orbit around the axis of change. Agile approaches equip organizations with the philosophies and frameworks necessary to deliver value through change, to pivot rather than break under the pressures of new challenges and opportunities. Meanwhile, AI, particularly in its generative form, is a catalyst for change, accelerating innovation and disruption at an unprecedented pace.

The symbiotic relationship between AI and Agile prompts us to contemplate the future trajectory of Agile methodologies in an AI-dominated landscape. Does the rise of AI necessitate an even greater emphasis on Agile principles, or could it potentially render traditional Agile methodologies obsolete? While the future remains speculative, one thing is clear: the emergence of AI as a potent force of change will inevitably upend and redefine the Agile paradigm. Agile, in its essence, is about navigating change effectively; thus, it must evolve in response to the new realities shaped by AI.

The Future of Agile and AI

As we stand at another fork in the road, a new landscape defined by Generative AI stands before us. The path ahead is murky and filled with challenges. And our journey through it, while inevitable, demands of us not just to move forward but to do so with a conscious reflection on where we have come from and how we got here.

A person looking into the future through a telescope toward stars of AI, Agile and Leadership.

The evolution of Agile into this AI-centric future does not mean we abandon our core principles. Instead, it heralds a period of transformation—a recalibration of Agile ways of working as we embrace the possibilities and navigate the complexities introduced by AI.

The essence of Agile, with its emphasis on adaptability, resilience, and continuous improvement, remains more relevant than ever in the context of AI's rapid evolution. 

At the Agile Leadership Journey, we are acutely aware of the challenges and opportunities that lie at this intersection of Agile and AI, especially for leaders seeking to locate where to “put their chips” (thanks Pete Lunenfeld for this reference, and CurrentWave AI for partnering with us on this AI journey!) Recognizing the significance of this moment, we have initiated the AI for Leadership Lab, a dedicated exploratory platform where leaders can engage with the pressing questions and uncertainties that AI introduces. Our aim is to foster a community of inquiry and support, where leaders can share insights, challenges, and strategies for navigating the AI landscape with agility and foresight.

The landscape of AI and leadership are indeed vast, with countless avenues for exploration and innovation. So while the Agile Leadership Journey will not traverse every road, our mission is to illuminate key pathways and collaborate with leaders, technologists, educators, and coaches to navigate this terrain with wisdom and purpose. We believe that the journey through this new expansive landscape is best undertaken together, where shared experiences and collective wisdom can guide us through the potential pitfalls and towards the myriad opportunities that AI presents.

We will be sharing our discoveries along our journey through writing, podcasting, webinars and through the World Management Agility Forum where leaders who are joining us on this journey will share stories and lessons.

In closing, I extend my gratitude to you for engaging with my personal reflections on the future of Agile in an AI-driven world. Your insights, questions, and dialogue are invaluable. Your participation and engagement in this journey are not just welcome; they are essential. 

Twenty2 Collective is licenced to offer Agile Leadership Journey Training in Australia. Connect with Pete Behrens, founder of the Agile Leadership Journey.


Republished with permission from 'Why Agilists are Heading to AI' posted by Pete Behrens.

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