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The Role of the Middle Manager in an Agile World

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Mário Moreira explored the role of the middle management in an agile world on its agile adoption roadmap blog and the challenges that are in place when facing that reality.

By speaking with people playing different middle management roles namely, line managers, functional managers, managers and directors, he noticed that each one has his own perspective about their responsibility in an agile reality and there were two profiles who faces the change to agile from a non-interesting perspective:

The functional manager who was also the team's line manager noted that they spent much less time on directing the team on what to work on since the work was now coming out of the Product Backlog.  I told him that yes this is big adjustment.  He needed to focus on ensuring that his team members had the right skills, understood the agile principles, and were given the education they needed to become a fully cross-functional team.
In talking to a director who now has 3 self-organizing teams, she was telling me that she was having a hard time knowing what to do since she felt she had to get more hands-on.  I told her by backing off, helping educate the team members around their new roles, and then allowing the teams to self-organize around the work was the right thing to do.  She needed to provide more vision level focus to connect the organization’s strategies to the product visions.  She commented that this was very different from the more traditional management role she had been used too.

He highlights the idea that middle managers are critical to the success of an agile team and if they don’t understand their role in the new reality or feel threatened by the change, they may become deceivers or deniers and block the success of the approach. As they often have less work to do in an agile world, he suggests that new options should be considered like becoming a resource manager or a product owner.

Finally, based on The Manager’s Role in Agile from Michael Spayd and Lyssa Adkins, he summarizes a checklist on which a middle manager can assess the degree of alignment with the best practices considering team management in an agile reality.

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