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InfoQ Homepage Articles Q&A on the Book Agile Leadership in Practice - Applying Management 3.0

Q&A on the Book Agile Leadership in Practice - Applying Management 3.0

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Key Takeaways

  • Management 3.0 is a bag full of ideas painted in rainbow colors you can use to speed up your learning and become a better leader.
  • Trust emerges from leaders acting as role models and sweat transpired together, while following a common goal.
  • Failing big time is easy even for experienced agile teams if fears overshadow ideas, as was the case for us with salary formulas.
  • The mindset of agile leaders mainly consists of passion for people and agility, a can-do attitude, humility and continuous learning.
  • It is easy to organize management work on different levels with Scrum and Kanban.


The book Agile Leadership in Practice - Applying Management 3.0 by Dominik Maximini is an experience report of the agile transformation journey of NovaTec. Maximini shares his experiences from applying principles and practices from Management 3.0, success stories, failure stories, and learnings from experiments.

InfoQ readers can download an extract of the Book Agile Leadership in Practice - Applying Management 3.0.

InfoQ interviewed Dominik Maximini about building trust in teams, salary formulas, the agile leader’s mindset, creating happiness among your employees and customers, delegation boards, using kanban and Scrum to organize management work, and learnings from experimenting with Management 3.0 practices.

InfoQ: Why did you write this book?

Dominik Maximini: I have been applying agile leadership and management 3.0 practices for many years now. To improve my knowledge further and apply it to our situation, I was looking for long-term case studies but couldn’t find any. I guessed that if I would benefit from such a case study, others would as well.

InfoQ: For whom is it intended?

Maximini: For people who want to change an organization from within, focusing on agile leadership.

InfoQ: What made you decide to experiment with Management 3.0 practices?

Maximini: Many years ago I met Jurgen Appelo during a conference, watched one of his talks and got into a (somewhat) heated debate with him afterwards. Before that, I was oblivious to Management 3.0. That day I decided to dig deeper into the concepts, read the book and started experimenting with my team. Some experiments were successful and we had fun doing them, so we continued.

InfoQ: How can we build trust in teams?

Maximini: Trust is a very important, yet difficult topic. You have to constantly work on it, otherwise trust might elude your team again. The formula for building trust is quite simple: spend time together, succeed and fail together, go through sweat and tears together. If you can relate all this to a common goal and shared values, it is quite likely that you can build trust over time.

Initially, simple actions such as drawing personal maps (a Management 3.0 practice) together can spark trust in your team. They can do this themselves, with or without management approval. Team trust is highly dependant on the team leader though: if she doesn’t walk the talk, trust won’t ever grow.

When talking about the "must-dos", we also have to look at the "must-not-dos" of building trust. The most important and easiest step is not to send emails on serious topics before you have discussed them in person. Just remember how often you received an email and experienced it as a slap in your face, while the person who sent it didn’t even realize how the text hurt you. When talking, this is far less likely to happen. In addition, emails tend to pester you for several days before any conflict emerging from them is resolved. In a personal discussion, this can be cleared much quicker.

InfoQ: What did you learn from trying the Salary Formulas practice with your team?

Maximini: This was a humbling experience. For us, salary proved to be the most sensitive topic of all. We failed several times at it. When we started the experiment, I believed people would jump at the opportunity of defining their own salary system. I was wrong. We put a lot of effort into the definition of a formula that met all criteria defined by the team. Then, we did a balancing period where we made sure nobody would earn less than before and the numbers matched our understanding of fair money distribution. Finally, people were asked to put their own numbers into the formula (e.g. years of experience, knowledge level, etc.) to experience the effects themselves. Only a few team members did it, and these didn’t talk about it. Unfounded fears dominated the discussion and kept everyone back. In the end, we abandoned the experiment because the biggest fear couldn’t be addressed; people who were earning more money than they should would be exposed.

Today, several years later, we have streamlined salaries more; the gaps are smaller. We are running a related experiment right now and still see fears all around us. It seems that salary is a huge topic, even for experienced self-organized agile teams.

What works quite well for us is conducting open 360-degree-workshops to determine individual performance and suggested salaries. Then, I as the accountable manager take these suggested salaries, sometimes adjust them, and decide on the final salary. Not as agile as I would like, but this approach is accepted by everyone.

InfoQ: You mentioned that for leadership roles you look for people with the right mindset over skills, as skills can be learned. What are the major aspects of an agile leader's mindset?

Maximini: Passion for people and agility is key. On top of these, an agile leader needs to always look for solutions, rather than problems. It has to do with ownership: do you own the issue at hand and solve it, or do you revel in misery because the world has thrown a problem at you? An agile leader also wants to empower people instead of believing she is the smartest person in the room. This also involves the inherent motivation for continuous improvement. An agile leader cannot just "do" agile, she must BE agile. This means constant reflection on herself, inspection and adaptation. For example, I recently realized that I wasn’t doing one part of my job well. While I provided my teams with what to do, I didn’t tell them why we needed to do it. The connection to our vision and values was missing. Once I realized this, I quickly fixed it, which meant I needed to reprioritize everything in my calendar to make the needed time to serve my teams better. At the same time, I realized that nobody had actually told me that I was unsuccessful in this role, which led me to the assumption that we might have an issue of psychological safety in the teams. While everybody was quick to refuse this when asked, we are still trying to dig deeper and get to the bottom of this, even if it’s just to make sure we don’t miss something important. This is going on right now. The outcome of this process will most likely result in several items for my learning backlog.

InfoQ: What do you do to create happiness among your employees and customers?

Maximini: Happy employees generate happy customers. That’s why we focus a little bit more on them. While we make our customers happy by delivering outstanding results in a highly flexible manner (e.g. contracts that allow customers to pay based on their satisfaction), we do a lot more for our employees. In fact, doing more for them means doing more with them. We involve our employees in most decisions and even introduced an employee participation program (called SMILE, which is not an acronym but illustrates what we want it to achieve with our employees) where everybody can pitch and vote for ideas. It is sponsored by a fairly high budget, completely managed by the employees themselves. We also do quarterly happiness surveys with a simple NPS followed by the question: "Why did you choose this value?"

These responses allow us to focus very closely on what our employees need. They are an invitation for discussion and simply by taking our employees seriously, happiness increases.
One example of what came out of these surveys is our working time model. Some years ago, every employee was allowed to use up to four compensation days, if enough overtime had been collected. Our employees didn’t like this at all. We involved many employees, discussed options, and in the end changed this to "use as many compensation days as you like, as long as you still reach your monetary goals". This works much better for everybody.

InfoQ: What benefits did Delegation Boards from Management 3.0 bring to you?

Maximini: Delegation Boards and Delegation Poker are the most-used practices we apply in our daily team life. Whenever we realize that decision power is not where it should be, we put the topic up the board and poker it. You can read the details in the sample chapter attached to this article.

The main benefit this gives us, is transparency. We all talk about the same things, rather than following assumptions. The biggest value comes from the discussion during Delegation Poker: we learn why we want to change or keep a certain delegation level. For example, in our last poker session, the team wanted to have staffing decisions (who goes to which customer) moved from four (the person going and I each have a veto right) to seven (full delegation, I might not even know about it). I couldn’t agree to this change. While standard cases work like this in our team, we sometimes have difficult scenarios where colleagues choose the easy way out instead of adhering to our strategy. Now everybody knows what is needed to increase the delegation level and we can act on it. Otherwise, we might not have had this conversation.

InfoQ: How do you use Kanban and Scrum to organize the management work?

Maximini: We try to practice what we preach. We have to consider two management levels here: team and organization-wide. On the team level, we are doing Scrum to organize ourselves. Monthly sprints kicked off with a sprint planning and ending with a sprint review and retrospective. It works quite well and we are able to organize most team-related management activities like this. I, as the manager, fill the product owner role. Since we are talking about team management, this means in our case filling the product backlog with items focused on product strategy, important sales activities, hiring and education, team-defined workshops, etc.
Organization-wide management work is organized with Kanban, because our discipline is not high enough for Scrum. We sit together every two weeks with the management board and discuss the progress of our overarching leadership tasks. Between these sessions, we closely collaborate to finish the tasks. We did not define special roles there; it’s just the management board and their next level of hierarchy working together.

InfoQ: What are your main learnings from experimenting with Management 3.0 practices?

Maximini: Management 3.0 certainly is not perfect, but the principles behind it are extremely valuable for us. Experimenting with ideas from Management 3.0 very often gives us new perspectives on how to do things. Especially in combination with other agile methods, such as Scrum, the benefits become obvious. You can describe Management 3.0 as a bag full of ideas, painted in rainbow colors. Of course, only very few of these ideas are actually new, but the way they are described and presented is so playful and simple that you just can’t resist trying them. The more you try, the more you learn and the more you learn, the better you get at what you are doing. This is my main learning: As a leader, consider your job as a highly complex series of experiments. It’s a learning journey I love to be on.

About the Author

Dominik Maximini is an experienced Agile leader, coach and Management 3.0 practitioner, working at Novatec Consulting, where he helps teams to discover and create a happier way of working. He applies his knowledge to introduce Agile practices like Evo, Scrum and Management 3.0 into enterprises of varying sizes and industry focus. Maximini is also the author of several books and articles in the Agile domain. If you would like the opportunity to meet him outside of a specific consulting engagement, he is available as a conference speaker.

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