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Role of Managers in Agile Transformation

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Agile doesn’t promote the role of traditional project managers so the managers look for other similar roles to fit in. Robert Galen, president and principal agile coach at RGalen Consulting, mentioned in his recent blog to rethink on leadership and management strategies in the organizations.

Galen shared a snippet from a LinkedIn group discussion by an esteemed Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) where he shared his experience of team performance with and without management involvement.

I have witnessed Scrum teams work at high performance with no manager involvement. I have also witnessed them work less effectively with manager involvement. I have not witnessed a Scrum team perform highly with the involvement of a manager. My experiences align with the conclusions reached in research and study by Jon Katzenbach and Doug Smith about teams (the Wisdom of Teams and The Discipline of Teams). According to them (and my experiences support their position), single leader work groups cannot reach the high performance of "real teams" for a variety of reasons, primarily because they are not autonomous and cannot leverage mutual accountability and other social contracts.

CSC/ CST community says that managers can’t be a part of the collaborative model in creating high-performance agile teams.

VersionOne also shared in its survey results that management issues as being a top five-failure factor in agile adoptions.

Agile thought leaders are discussing about the new role of managers. Some books are also published on the same as:

  • Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders, by Jurgen Apello
  • The Culture Game: Tools for the Agile Manager, by Daniel Mezick
  • The Leaders Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21’st Century, by Stephen Denning
  • Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers, by Lyssa Adkins

Zappos an entrepreneurial company and online shoe and clothing shop, announced that they are moving to Halocracy as an organizational model. Halocracy replaces top-down predict-and-control paradigm with a new way of achieving control by distributing power.

Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos describes their organizational model of Halocracy as follows:

We're trying to figure out how to structure Zappos more like a city, and less like a bureaucratic corporation. In a city, people and businesses are self-organizing. We're trying to do the same thing by switching from a normal hierarchical structure to a system called Halocracy, which enables employees to act more like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work instead of reporting to a manager who tells them what to do.

Galen says that rather than bashing or firing managers there are some constructive approaches to partner with leaders and managers. Leaders are required when moving to agile approaches. Galen highlights following alternative reactions and recommends going with them.

  • Don’t stereotype: Treat all of your managers as unique and give them a fair shake when it comes to supporting their efforts to become agile leaders.
  • Be empathetic and patient with them.
  • Partner with and teach them
  • Listen with intent
  • Open dialogue to tell the truth
  • Don’t underestimate the value of leaders.

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