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War & Agile: Why Russia Failed to Take Kyiv “In Three Days”?

The Kremlin dictator aimed at “blitzkrieg” — a quick invasion in Ukraine, an independent European state with a population of more than 40 million citizens, trying to make it a part of Russia. Why did it not work?

Russia planned a quick occupation of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, having ordered the invasion on February 23, 2022. However, it faced fierce resistance from the Ukrainians and lost more than 14,000 troops in the third week of the war (not to mention its loss of tanks, aircraft, and other military equipment).

Analyzing this failure from the Agile point of view, as opposed to Waterfall or simply the “old school” sophisticated vertical management models, we discovered that the leadership model of the Russian tyrant was diametric to the values of Agile.

For example, the four core values of Agile software development postulates the following priority, as stated in the Agile Manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation;
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation;
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

In other words, in the case of military actions:

  1. people are more important than armored fighting vehicles;
  2. a working system is more important than piles of documentation or reports;
  3. close collaboration with the soldiers is more important than bureaucracy;
  4. ability to change and adjust quickly is more important than following the initial plan.

Despite these values, the Russian commander in chief followed a usual USSR paradigm accompanied by the slogans “At any cost!”, sacred dates “Kyiv has to be taken by 02.02.2022”, etc.

Resulting in the largest loss since the ten-year Soviet-Afghan War in Afghanistan (1979-1989) and demoralization of the Russian army, the following leadership practices were applied by their commanders:

  1. A human being is nothing. There is no significant value in the life of a soldier. Nobody came to support or save Russian troops as soon as they were in trouble. Russian wives were receiving notes of their husbands being dead while they were still alive. The food supply was poor and ammunition bad. When the first squads were eliminated, Putin was sending the next portion of a “cannon fodder.”
  2. Being a “bunker” leader, far away from the battlefield, Putin was anticipating positive reports. Never changing the values or approach, with the losses increasing, the commander-in-chief kept on waiting for the news that was planned initially. Russian strategy against the UA army failed, while the leaders did not change the system.
  3. Russian soldiers felt abandoned by their chiefs. Their government was trying to vail its war crimes calling the invasion “operation”, shifting from any liabilities to the soldiers.
  4. The Russian army was not flexible enough to deal with the Ukrainian army.

With different values, the Ukrainian army demonstrated an opposite Agile approach:

  1. Every human being is valuable and more important than the “processes” or “tools”. If there was an issue, the preference was given to people, not “items.” Saving the life of each soldier was the priority of the Ukrainian commanders.
  2. Unfortunately, Ukraine could not prevent all the tragedies and all the attacks on its territory (the size of France or the state of Texas). However, its commanders developed a system that worked — causing significant loss to the enemy, while keeping it minimal for their own army.
  3. The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky made a historical choice by turning away from the old hierarchical and bureaucratic paradigm and giving the green light to agility. He stepped down to the horizontal level of normal people.
    Western leaders offered shelter to him. Some advised capitulating, others assured that Ukraine will fall anyway, or not be able to resist “the second-largest army in the world.”
    Instead, the Chief Commander of Ukraine never left Ukraine and spent days and nights in its capital demonstrating solidarity with the people and determination to defend the country.
    He gave a lot of authority to the army to decide and not wait for all the bureaucratic procedures to approve every little move.
  4. The Ukrainian army has demonstrated the ability to change, adjust, and act quickly while taking good care of the soldiers and resources.

Failing to resist the Ukrainian army, Russians started killing and murdering innocent civilians. Only there could they boast of their success in the short run. This is a dramatic side of the story, yet here we emphasized that the Agile paradigm of leadership is so important today that can predefine the defeat of “the second-largest army in the world.”

Europe and the U.S. seemed to be slow and reluctant to provide immediate help to Ukraine that would have prevented tragic losses among the civilian people. Their old bureaucratic paradigm demonstrated its current system’s failure to respond quickly and adequately to modern challenges, especially in view of global security threats and the violation of democratic values.

To our surprise, many businesses in the West and elsewhere are still run in the old vertical hierarchy styles and with bossy attitudes, deprecating the role of teams and every individual. It is not hard to predict their failure amidst the new high-speed agile reality caused by the rapid growth of digital technology.
What values really stand behind your organization?

P.S. You can support the Armed Forces of Ukraine (The National Bank of Ukraine opens a special account).

Authors: Slava Moskalenko, Oles Dmytrenko

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