Often you will hear that the biggest challenge to Agile adoption is management. There is little doubt about this. Adjusting to an Agile mindset for many managers is difficult. This is especially true for managers who only know a command and control environment. It also doesn’t help that most business schools teach outdated management theories. Agile requires a new way of managing based on coaching and empowering others.
It is important though to realize that manager’s still play a key role in Agile. Just because the Scrum Guide and Agile Manifesto pay no mention to managers, it doesn’t mean they aren’t needed. To the contrary, in my experience good managers are crucial to the success of Agile delivery. Management shouldn’t be a bad word!
Let me provide a scenario. An Agile team was on track to a deliver a product to a very important customer. The team misses their promised delivery date and the customer is irate. In a situation like this, should executives look to the entire Agile team to understand why the delivery date was missed? No, they shouldn’t. In this situation, a manager should be the one to explain to the executives what happened, and take the heat. The manager would also provide direction to go forward. It’s the manager’s responsibility to communicate with leadership and, well, to manage.
Agile is about empowerment and trust, but this doesn’t mean we abandon management. If we did, it would be chaos. The notion that managers relinquish all control to delivery teams is naive. It’s also irresponsible. Agile purists envision a Utopian world of people working together in harmony. They long for a workplace where people are never told what to do. The reverse is the old school manager, who wants to make all the decisions. Neither one of these approaches are adequate. The key to management is balance. This brings me to the Agile manager.
The Agile manager empowers teams, but also knows when to step in. They are servant leaders first, but they know when to manage. The idea that managers should never put pressure on teams, or tell anyone what to do, is a fantasy. As Agile continues to evolve, we can’t see management approaches as black or white. Agile managers must be flexible. The best teams evolve from a diverse management approach.
About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.