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INSIGHTS / Articles

Agile Management

 18 Feb 2014 
INSIGHTS / Articles

Agile Management

 18 Feb 2014 

ABSTRACT: This paper discusses the difference between management and leadership within an Agile team. An Agile team looks for leaders who have a ‘do as I do’ attitude rather than ‘do as I say’. However, teams do need management but with agile this is focussed on self-management and collaboration with the team.

Agile Management

From the Scrum guidelines; Management supports the Product Owner with insights and information into high value product and system capabilities. Management supports the Scrum Master to cause organisational change that fosters empiricism, self-organisation, bottom-up intelligence and intelligent release of software.

What does Self-Management Mean?

Self-Management has been described as “Management of or by oneself; the taking of responsibility for one’s own behaviour and well-being”. This can be achieved by adopting particular methods, skills, and strategies by which individuals can effectively direct their own activities toward the achievement of objectives.

A manager is a person responsible for controlling or administering an organisation or group of staff.

Management in business and organisations means to coordinate the efforts of people to accomplish goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively.

One of the critical pillars in order to support any Agile implementation is the first part of the Agile values, that being “individuals and interactions…” Agile is all about the people and how they work together. If you can get this right most of the other hurdles can be overcome.
My first real life example relates to self-management.Teams are not going to thrive and blossom if told “we are going Agile, here are some templates, off you go”. Sure, this may be a slightly exaggerated, but essentially this is what happens in many instances.

This can be particularly challenging for more junior members of the team who are accustomed to having a manager directing them if not issuing work to them, sometimes on a daily basis. In these traditional environments, the Test Manager will typically have written the Test Strategy and Test Plan which junior team members often have not read (not a practice I would advocate). It is no wonder they inexperienced in planning work for themselves!

Of course different people have different capabilities and some will thrive in this environment. When starting with an Agile team it is important to be there to support them and provide guidance but definitely not manage them. It is critical to let them have a go, facilitating without providing all the answers, allowing them to fail and learn for themselves in a positive team culture where finger printing is discouraged. If there are more experienced members of the team it can be beneficial to suggest pairing with junior members, with pairings rotating regularly. It is also advisable to provide coaching, at least during the first few iterations.

Key signs that a team has succeeded in self-management is when:

  • The team commits to a delivery and then delivers
  • Individuals are completing tasks that they have taken to achieve
  • Team members are not afraid to put their hand up to ask for help without 
  • considering it a failure
  • There is more talk than documentation
Does Management still Exist on Agile Projects?

For larger projects, management certainly exists outside of the immediate Agile team(s). A Project Manager may be required in such roles as coordinating releases across projects or organising training.

Even the Scrum Guidelines acknowledge that management is required within an Agile team. There is, however, a vast difference between management and a manager …

  • The Scrum framework consists of Scrum Teams and their associated roles, events, artefacts, and rules
  • A Scrum binds together the events, roles, and artefacts, governing the relationships and interaction between them
  • Scrum Teams are self-organising and cross-functional
  • Self-organising teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team
  • The team model in Scrum is designed to optimise flexibility, creativity, and productivity

Certainly there is no longer the manager role as defined within traditional projects where they are in command and the controller of the project plan with everyone ultimately reporting to them. There are, however, roles that have management as a competency.

How to Change from a Manager to a Leader

Leadership has been described as “a process in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”, although there are alternative definitions of leadership. For example, some understand a leader simply as somebody people follow or as somebody who guides or directs others.

I have observed many senior team members who were unsure of how to move from command and control to facilitator. They have been used to directing other staff and allocating tasks. They often get frustrated by others taking longer to make a decision or even going down the wrong track initially. It is tempting to just jump in and sort the problem out rather than support them and help them figure it out for themselves.
This behaviour often builds a divide in the team that may never be overcome to reach full self-management. Some members may feel excluded, becoming reluctant to fully participate in discussions feeling that their opinions are not considered or valued.

For some, seniority and titles are important. If they have manager or lead in their title then it means that they have the right to be listened to and direct other team members due purely to their status – they have earned this right. In Agile these titles and even the activities of each role disappear or at least blurs and you become a member of a team, each with equal rights. This is difficult for some to accept, having worked their way up the management ladder. It is common for them to continue trying to direct other team members in the planning of tasks, saying how tasks should be split and allocated rather than letting this decision happen as a team.

This behaviour can often be subconscious and difficult to kick, as these individuals continue in a manner in which they have always acted. Whilst it can be well intentioned to ‘take over’ if you see someone not quite sure in which direction to go, this does not help in the long run as the team will not develop and become multi-functional with an equal ownership of what they are producing.

Key signs that senior members are working well within the Agile team is when:

  • They follow a “do as I do” mentality not “do as I say”
  • At differing points with the iteration different people will be seen to be leading
  • There is not one person dominating discussions
  • Team members continually volunteer to take on work

In Agile teams you are looking for leaders and not managers – each have very different mindsets and ways of working. A leader works as part of the team to get tasks completed, guiding the team to do it themselves. Managers command and control, telling the team what to do, often without getting their hands dirty. Teams do need management in order to deliver on their commitments but Agile projects should achieve this through self-management and team collaboration, working together to achieve a common goal.

Leanne Howard

Business Agility Practice Director

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