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A manager’s role in agile

Basic

difficulty

Stage 1

Agile IQ® Level

Team Setup

EVENT

Introduction

Agile organisations typically have three areas of accountability to deliver products and services in an agile way:

  • Product Owner – optimising the work of the team for value.
  • Scrum Master – making Scrum effective.
  • Developers  – the people who are developing the product and doing the work.

Where does the manager fit in?

Role of the manager in agile

Change from managing people to managing the ecosystem of work

The manager’s role in an agile world is to make efficiency and productivity a reality.

To do this in the past, managers have typically “managed” individuals in vertical, functional silos (i.e., Development, Quality Assurance, Finance, etc.). In the agile enterprise,  though, management is horizontal:

  • Create and support cross-functional self-managing teams.
  • Align teams to value streams.
  • Remove functional silos. Build the “internal customer” concept. Use cross-functional teamwork to build understanding and reduce adversarial relationships. Focus on collaboration and consensus instead of compromise.
  • Work with Scrum Masters to identify and remove organisational impediments that slow the delivery of value.
  • Manage the system – decision-making, red tape, waste, bottlenecks – so that it is optimised for value. Stop managing individuals to optimise for efficiency and utilisation.
  • Don’t simply supervise – provide support and resources so that each staff member can do his or her best. Be a coach instead of a policeman.
  • Eliminate fear. Allow people to perform at their best by ensuring that they’re not afraid to express ideas or concerns. Let everyone know that the goal is to achieve high quality by doing more things right – and that you’re not interested in blaming people when mistakes happen.
  • Eliminate management by objectives. Look at how the process is carried out, not just numerical targets. Targets only encourage high output and low quality. Measure the process rather than the people behind the process.

What’s the vision for agile?

Set a strong vision and mission of why agility is important for the organisation. Agile can reap significant benefits:

  • Lower costs.
  • Faster delivery.
  • Faster to pivot to change.
  • Higher quality.
  • Greater throughput.

Make it clear that these “transformation” outcomes are everyone’s job. Improve your overall organisation by having each person take a step toward these benefits.

Be clear that agile’s benefits mean changing the way people work

All of these things are easy to achieve, but it requires people to change the way they work. If you’re not explicit about the change that’s required, if people just tweak the way they work and don’t really change, you won’t get agile’s benefits. If you don’t participate yourself, then the people you lead won’t change their behaviour.

Establish guardrails

All agile frameworks have specific rules that make it effective. When only parts are enacted, agile isn’t as effective. A manager’s job is to set expectations that for agile to work teams must work within its rules.

Expectations

  • Set firm expectations for results
  • Clear all roadblocks
  • Give your teams everything they need to achieve them.
  • Hold them accountable to their commitments but ensure they’re committing to things that are committable (predicting the future delivery date of a fixed scope and cost project is not one of them.)
  • Embrace self-organisation and empower your team to make decisions they are capable of making, and this changes as they grow.
  • Protect self-organisation and turn your head away when the team asks for direction on something they can easily decide.
  • Do nothing that strips your teams of empowerment.

Learn More

Self-Organisation

Managers can easily achieve 15-20% more productivity when they encourage teams to be self organising.

Agile Values

Managers should look beyond just the symbols of agility and work to change people's mindsets - the way they think about work

Continuous learning culture

Managers should give people room to improve and to be active in learning.

Sprinting

Working in a cadence of rapid, short work cycles, is key to receiving fast feedback to learn, innovate, and pivot to change.

References

Cheney, G., Christensen, L. T., Zorn, T. E., Ganesh, G. (2011). Organizational communication in an age of globalization: Issues, reflections, practices (2nd ed., pp. 215251). Long Grove, ILWaveland Press.

Delarue, A., Van Hootegem, G., Procter, S., Burridge, M. (2008). Teamworking and organizational performance: A review of survey-based research. International Journal of Management Reviews, 10, 127148.

Deming, W. E. (2001) Out of the Crisis, p23-24.

Maytom, B. (2018) Whare is the manager role in Scrum?

Piper, R. (2019) What’s a manager’s role on a Scrum Team?

Sutherland, J. and Schwaber, K. (2020) The Scrum Guide. The Definitive Guide to Scrum: The Rules of the Game.

Van der Hoek, M., Groeneveld, S., Kuipers, B. (2016) Goal Setting in Teams: Goal Clarity and Team Performance in the Public Sector.

 

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