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Role of Management in Agile Governance

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How can we manage and govern multiple agile teams? At the Agile Governance conference in Amsterdam Christoph Johann Stettina presented about agile governance and the role of management. He studied 14 large European organizations on how they apply agile project management methods in IT project portfolios. The first results of his study are published in the report Agile portfolio management: An empirical perspective on the practice in use.

According to Christoph agile software methods caused a silent revolution on how we organize individual software projects. Agile becomes the ‘New Normal’ and multi-project management is an opportunity to become agile outside of individual teams.

Christoph explained how agile governance clashes with the assumptions of classic management theory:

  • Full predictability of project course and results
  • There is always one, single client
  • Focus on command-and-control)
  • Little or no involvement of management in content
  • Management on input-output only

In his talk Christoph shared conclusions from his study on agile portfolio management:

When embedded in project portfolios agile methods clash with the traditional mindset. Traditional methods such as Prince-2 are predictive where agile is adaptive: Emergent, iterative and exploratory. Agile teams are self managing and cannot be governed on predefined inputs and outputs only. Innovation happens everywhere and projects change in course of their execution. Agile teams take over many tradition PM tasks and to be effective they must have a degree of self management.

As agility on the project and team level enables faster delivery of results, the participants in his case organizations look for closer collaboration with management. They prefer to work in stable teams to build their competences. If an agile team is able to deliver results in 2 week Sprints, coordination on the program and portfolio level in quarterly cycles might not be sufficient and might need to be aligned in frequency.

Management must constantly facilitate and translate content and context across the involved domains of practice said Christoph. As content and context are constantly changing, the translation must be embedded in an iterative routine. To support this managers have to assure that information is shared and understood. Christoph concludes that:

  • Agile management is about sensemaking - The manager needs to understand the context and act accordingly
  • Routines are an important tool of governance - Which agile practices to apply and how to apply them depends on the situation.
  • Agile practices are routines - you cannot learn agile by reading a book, but you can use coaching and games can help to understand and establish agile practices.
  • Retrospectives on a program level are needed to share learnings between team - Agility is about learning and adapting, learning at the team level need to be actively shared across teams (e.g. PMO).

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