You’re a manager.
You recently helped implement Scrum in your organization. You have received praise for this, because quality of work is now steadily improving and customers are delighted by the steady stream of product improvements.
Did you just work your way out of a job? Are you even relevant anymore?
The good news: you ARE still relevant. And your most valuable work is just beginning.
Why Scrum Still Needs Managers
Self-Organizing Teams are often chaotic, especially in the first few months of implementing Scrum. A traditional manager might be tempted to intervene and guide them along – “Surely they need someone to at least assign tasks?” Nope. It’s an easy, well-worn rut to fall into, but it unwittingly damages a self-organizing team early on. But you resisted the temptation because you knew that it would only cause them to spend more time in the early stages of team formation. Well done! Now that you’ve achieved that important transition, what is the next step for you as their manager?
Traditional vs. Agile
One of the biggest problems with management in the traditional, “waterfall” world is it is often not well-defined. However, to say anything meaningful about Agile management we need a definition of what traditional management does to show how the two differ. The list below is a summary based on “The Wall Street Journal Guide to Management” and the Open University course, “Managing and managing people.”
- Sets objectives, often in the form of performance objectives or KPIs
- Organizes the work (dividing it into achievable chunks)
- Makes people accountable and motivates them to do the work
- Measures many things, including people’s productivity and the rate at which work gets done
- Puts strategies in place to achieve departmental goals
- Prioritizes, plans, and assigns project work
- Does their own hiring, firing, and performance reviews
- Sets policy and helps define it for the organization
- Coordinates work among team members
- Controls the behaviour of people doing the work
- Communicates team status and other information to the rest of the organization
Beyond these, in the course of my own career as a manager, I’d also include: set deadlines, make technical decisions, and play favourites.
Where Traditional Management emphasizes control, assignment, performance appraisals, and hiring and firing, Agile management focuses on moving from control to capability-building and growing the confidence of people doing the work by helping them find learning opportunities and providing one-on-one coaching.
Instead of managing staff, they invest in team members. They focus on building organizational capacity, flexibility, and strategy, leaving tactical decision-making to the self-organizing teams.
Let’s examine how the above list might change when using an Agile approach instead of a Traditional management structure.
- Instead of arbitrarily setting objectives for a Team, collaborates with the Team to determine objectives. The team will feel ownership and responsibility, rather than confusion and resentment if they don’t understand how the objectives were compiled.
- Metrics can be useful in the hands of the people doing the work to understand what is going on, but they often cause dysfunction if shared outside of the team. Let the team measure their own rate and performance – they understand what the numbers are telling them and how to make any needed changes. For more see: Measurement For Scrum – What Are Appropriate Measures?
- Rather than have a manager organize and assign work with limited understanding of the people, their skills, or time needed, the Product Owner decides on work priorities in the Product Backlog. The Team who will actually be doing the work can clarify their understanding of it during Product Backlog Refinement and plan the work themselves.
- Most people, in most circumstances, are already motivated to work. The challenge isn’t motivation but understanding of the vision for the project or product and alignment to strategy. Provide your Team with a clear vision and frequent feedback. Intrinsic Motivation comes from within the individual — great managers and organizations can help by creating an environment where this is possible, creating a joyful workplace.
- Related to this is the strong preponderance of evidence demonstrating that Annual Performance Reviews aren’t effective and should be replaced with regular one-on-one conversations, listening to Team members, and providing feedback.
- Business and organizational strategy happens outside the realm of a Scrum Team, so your role as manager remains the same there. But a Scrum Team is well-equipped to take care of their own tactical needs and some of their own skills development. Your job is to ensure the rest of the organization understands your team(s), their needs, impediments and the challenges they face.
- It has been abundantly demonstrated at this point that most traditional interview techniques are not effective. What interview techniques do work?
- Sadly, the need to fire people doesn’t go away. When it must happen, the authority to do so must live outside the Scrum Team, otherwise the Scrum Team will self-organize according to what they perceive management wants instead of what they need to do their best work.
- Management still helps set Organizational Policy, so there’s no practical change in your role in this regard either, the policies themselves will change but Management still plays a large role in designing them. But consciously keeping Agile approaches in mind when setting policy would definitely help. As Herzberg’s work “Two Factor Theory” (motivation-hygiene theory) shows, matters of policy and administration rarely inspire delight from Team members. Given policy is the largest source of employee dissatisfaction and is rarely a motivator, policy ought to be as lightweight and low-impact as possible.
So those are some distinct differences between Traditional and Agile Management. Mostly, though, it’s a change in mindset.
What doesn’t change is the Manager’s role in communicating with the outside world (although some of this is now handled by the Product Owner). The most significant change is the move from controlling to supporting/developing. Growing the capacity of people to do work is one of the most valuable things managers can do.
As management makes these shifts, we have to ensure that behaviours change and team members perceptions and expectations change too. Many of these points require a bigger conversation, and we’ll discuss them in more detail in the future.
The above is exactly where you will find your role as an Agile Manager. But don’t get hung up on it coming with a shiny new title for your door, because titles are dangerous, as we’ll see in an upcoming post.
 “The Wall Street Journal Essential Guide to Management” by Alan Murray
 “Managing and Managing People” – OpenLearn
Henri Fayol – The source of the “Control” portion of Management – intended ‘Controlling’ to mean the manager receives feedback in order to make adjustments. Fayol’s notion seems somewhat Agile.
 “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work and What Does?” by Susan Fowler
 Why People Really Quit Their Jobs and “Joy Inc” by Richard Sheridan
 Here’s Google’s Secret to Hiring the Best People by Laszlo Block andWhy job interviewers should focus on the candidates, not selling their organisation
 The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students by Valerie Strauss
 Extreme Interviewing – Menlo Innovations
Mark Levison has been helping Scrum teams and organizations with Agile, Scrum and Kanban style approaches since 2001. From certified scrum master training to custom Agile courses, he has helped well over 8,000 individuals, earning him respect and top rated reviews as one of the pioneers within the industry, as well as a raft of certifications from the ScrumAlliance. Mark has been a speaker at various Agile Conferences for more than 20 years, and is a published Scrum author with eBooks as well as articles on InfoQ.com, ScrumAlliance.org an AgileAlliance.org.