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What is the Role of a Manager in an Agile Organization?

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Your organization is adopting Agile Development and your Managers are trying to find their new role. Prior to the adoption Agile perhaps management was involved in the creating the specifications and assigning the tasks. According to the Cambridge dictionary, to manage means: "to be responsible for controlling or organizing someone or something especially a business".

Now that teams are self organizing and the stories (instead of specs) come from the product owner. So what does management do? George Dinwiddie, Software Development Coach with iDIA Computing, suggests that there are four major roles:

  • Removing impediments from across the company
  • Measuring the effectiveness of the process
  • Long term technical strategies
  • Other strategic thinking

George's take away, management should step back from low level, day to day work and trust the team to do make the right choices.

Mark Graybill, Owner of Tiger Team,  cites a case where a Senior Executive had his hands deep inside of the teams work. When the behaviour was changed the team was able to produce more value in the next few months than it had in the previous six.

Tom Poppendieck, co-author of Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit, says:

At Toyota, technical management is extremely important.  Their core roles are to act as teachers and as collaborators with the front line workers to relentlessly improve their processes and practices.  Technical managers engage with their teams and help them do experiments to identify better ways of working and when improvements  are found, they make the learning rapidly available to other teams.  ...  In short, they focus on improving the capability and capacity of their entire organization to contribute to creation of valuable products.

Finally Mark Woyna, President of Argonne Technologies, points out that sometimes roles have outlived their need in which case the organization has to find a new role for that person altogether.

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Community comments

  • Interesting that I thought the same thing when I saw the headline

    by Porter Woodward,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    When I saw the headline in my RSS reader: "What is the Role of a Manager in an Agile Organization?" - my immediate thought was to reduce and remove roadblocks for the team(s) they manage. I hadn't thought too much beyond that - but typically management is responsible for roadmaps, and so-forth - so measuring the effectiveness of the ongoing development process should probably be done by them.

    Technical Strategies, and long term strategy. All depends on what level of management. Hopefully management will have enough time to pursue "learning" more about potential technologies, etc. Ideally they should also have some exposure to any other ongoing projects to help reduce organizational reinvention of the wheel.

  • Help Make High Performing Teams

    by Lyndon Washington,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Some of the things that we have seen occur with people who were/are in Manager roles is . . .

    • remove impediments - Help the Scrum Master remove the barriers to a successful sprint and overall agile adoption.

    • coach employees - Help the Scrum Master coach and mentor the team members on the new process.

    • Validate and provide input on the backlog - Help the Product Owner by bringing their own accumulated vault of technical and domain experience to refine and polish backlog items.

    • People management - Focus on the careers and advancement of their staff.

    Simplified viewpoint I know, but if the organization has made a decision to change having engaged and committed management staff on board to help deliver the message is essential.

  • Re: Help Make High Performing Teams

    by Pascal Mestdach,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Indeed don't forget People management.

    What about Team Alignment and the SoS (Scrum of Scrums)?
    And the Product Owner Daily Scrum?

    Any experiences with involving managers in those meetings?


    Pascal Mestdach [ScrumMaster]

  • Actually doing that.

    by William Martinez,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    We learned that far ago.

    Project managers were suppose to have control of choice and even indicate low level actions to subordinates. That is simple nuts. (I read once PMs had to approve the design!!!)

    Project Managers needed to be technically skilled, so highly, that the result was PMs NOT: managing people needs, controlling times, evaluating results, all that was simple not being done.

    Now there are technical leads, developers that have people management skills that direct and help the other developers to go on technically, first line of help. Above that, supporting high technical/strategic decisions, are architects. PMs are there working all about scheduling, careers, training, hardware resources, people management, customer management, answering emails about status, even documenting. They are now part of the team, not the cherry top of it.

    And of course, don't forget they are the ones to call at night for pizza!.

    William Martinez Pomares.
    Architect's Thoughts

  • Re: Help Make High Performing Teams

    by Mark Levison,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Pascal - Sorry I took so long to reply, I was off sick.

    I prefer not to involve management with the daily scrum. Teams (and managers) often get confused with their roles when this happens. There is a risk that instead of sharing information with team mates - people will simply report to their manager. When this happens the other team members often shutdown and don't pay attention. When management does attend I usually encourage someone else to facilitate the meeting.

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