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The Role of an Agile Manager

An agile transformation needs a convincing involvement and statement by top management to show that the game really has changed says Jürgen Dittmar. It also needs a clear and attractive perspective for the new management layer. Agile is based on a high degree of self-organization, that’s why according to Dittmar agile organizations tend to need less managers. Instead they need real leaders acting as a collaborative leadership team and as servant leaders to the organization.

At the Agile Greece Summit in Athens, Greece, Dittmar talked about "Management 3.0 – the essential perspective and toolset for agile managers". The Agile Greece Summit 2015 is covered by InfoQ with Q&As, news and articles.

InfoQ interviewed Dittmar about how management can be an obstacle in agile transformations, changing the mindset and approach for managing organizations, how managers and leaders can enable agility in organizations, and examples from applying Management 3.0.

InfoQ: Can you give some example showing how management can be an obstacle in an transformation?

Dittmar: If you look at the results of surveys like the annual "State of Agile" Survey by VersionOne you will recognize that most of the major reported obstacles of introducing Agile are linked to management responsibilities or behavior. Things like "inability to change the organizational culture", "general resistance to change", "lack of management support", "management opposition", "concerns about loss of management control", all this has to do with leadership and management. It’s either open or hidden resistance by a relevant part of the management layer or just not supporting the change.

And you see this everywhere. This is a typical conflict you can observe more or less in most agile transformations and the reason is quite obvious: Why should a traditional manager support a change where it seems he or she will be the biggest loser in the game? It feels like losing status, power and control, a new game with no security, no defined role to be proud of and no perspective at all. And that’s why I think a transformation should take care about management and leadership from the very beginning. A transformation cannot afford managers feeling sidelined, worrying about their future and organizing or tolerating resistance.

So the most important things you have to deliver from the beginning is: a clear statement by top management that the game really has changed in combination with a clear and attractive perspective for the new management layer! And that’s where the Management 3.0 principles and practices come in and play a very important role.

InfoQ: Please elaborate why a different mindset and approach to leading and managing organizations is needed when organizations adopt agile?

Dittmar: If we talk about an agile transformation we usually think about the introduction of a framework like Scrum in an organization that has been managed in a more traditional style. And in a traditional organization the "best" people get promoted and become managers. And managers are very important because they have "everything under control", they (micro)manage and motivate their teams and they are finally responsible to create great results. That’s why they get more money, attend important meetings and a drive a company car.

Agile or Scrum is based on a completely different attitude and mindset. It’s all about "Servant Leadership" and the Scrum guide doesn’t even mention "Management" as a role. And that’s where the main conflict starts. You have existing management layers which existence is based on this traditional command & control mission and self-understanding. And suddenly they are confronted with this new framework that requires self-organization, self-motivation and self-responsibility of the team, a Product Owner who is defining what the team creates and a Scrum Master with the official mission to stop anybody from disturbing the team. And of course: as a manager I would not like this because without any further guidance the message is clear: You are out! Nobody needs you!

InfoQ: Given this I can understand manager’s resistance to agile. Any suggestions how to deal with this?

Dittmar: I see the introduction of Agile and especially Scrum in a traditional organization as a real revolution – a revolution that affects old paradigms, existing culture and belief systems as well as power structures. You have to be aware of it and you have to be ready for some sacrifice and some victims. One victim is the traditional management style. You will need less managers because a lot of management can be done be the teams. But you need real leaders acting as a collaborative leadership team and as servant leaders to the entire organization.

InfoQ: Can you talk about how managers and leaders can enable agility in organizations?

Dittmar: I think first of all leaders really have to understand the principles behind complexity, systems thinking and agile principles. They have to understand why traditional hierarchies and a 20th century management style based on command and control does not work in our fast changing and complex world. And not only do they have to understand how Scrum and Agile works but even more important they need to understand why it works. They need to understand the psychological background to find their role and to really support the values and culture that an agile organization needs.

As soon as they have found their mindset and attitude their main role would be to support self-organization and organizational change as well as to develop and evolve the company vision. An aligned and collaborative management layer could act as an Enterprise Transition Team, e.g. introducing Scrum with Scrum, supporting and challenging Scrum Masters and Product Owners and taking care about the major impediments.

For all this it needs a major change in attitude and values. But you also need hands on practices to find your new role and perspective as a leader. That’s where the ideas, practices and stories of Management 3.0 and #Workout can help a lot.

InfoQ: Can you describe what Management 3.0 is and what it is not.

Dittmar: Management 3.0 is definitely not a framework that you can implement like Scrum or CMMI with certain rules, roles and artifacts. I see Management 3.0 more as a mindset and attitude what it really means to be a servant leader together. All this is based on a broad understanding about psychology and how to change complex social systems. That’s why Management 3.0 consists of some core principles that describe this mindset in combination with many, many practices showing how to implement this mindset wherever and whenever you need it.

As more and more organizations have to deal with complexity and try to implement agile processes and frameworks, the need for a new role model for management and leaders is growing. This might be the reason why I see growing interest, even in big "old economy" companies like car manufacturers, insurance companies or publishers, to work with Management 3.0 practices. I already have many customers from this part of the economy.

InfoQ: Do you have examples of how organizations have used Management 3.0 to implement servant and transformational leadership in agile?

Dittmar: Within the last three years I saw many examples in my workshops, consulting practice and Management 3.0 meetups. And there is a big variety of organizations. It stretches from managers in big conservative organizations who just experiment with some Management 3.0 practices to organizations living Management 3.0 to a very high degree, where everybody in a kind of management role is asked visit an Management 3.0 course.

But talking about examples: nearly everybody I know started working with practices like "Delegation Poker" or "Moving Motivators" in their teams or with their managers. Those are very effective tools you can use in any organization just to make delegation and motivation structures visible and to help people and teams to improve. Starting from Management 3.0 discussions I also saw many managers and organizations seriously thinking about the negative impact of their bonus system, and some organization actually eliminated these tools.

Better KPIs, feedback, problem solving, communication, etc. – Management 3.0 has a lot of ideas to really address existing problems in organizations. And the good thing with Management 3.0 is: you can start today. Practices like "Delegation Board", "Kudo Cards" or "Moving Motivators" can be introduced and used just in the next team meeting. Dealing with other core problems like bonuses and tools like the "Salary Formula" of course requires active involvement and support from top management and departments like HR. But this really can support changing the culture of an organization.

InfoQ: Where can we find more information about Management 3.0?

Dittmar: Besides the three books (Management 3.0, How to change the world, #Workout) there is a lot of information on the Management3.0 website available. There you can download exercises and games and even the new #Workout book. Also the website of Happy Melly – which is the organization behind the Management 3.0 brand - offers many Management 3.0 stories and ideas. And I’m sure besides me all my colleagues acting as Management 3.0 facilitators would also be happy to help with sharing information and experiences.

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