A few months ago I had a conversation with a development manager whose teams had transitioned to Scrum earlier in the year. The development manager said he was really happy with the transition to Scrum and how productive, transparent and collaborative the teams had become. Then almost as an afterthought, he mentioned another benefit of Agile Transformation that excited me.
He talked about how after the transition to Scrum that he had gained additional time to do important work. In addition to being the development manager, he was also the architect for the products being developed. He was responsible for product vision and strategy, and in some cases, he still wrote code. He was excited that he actually had time to write code because he felt it kept him sharp.
The manager shared that prior to the transition to Scrum, he had been spending about 70% of his time focused on the managing the people and teams; directing and making sure tasks got done. That left him only 30% of his time to think, to strategize, and to write code. Since the Agile Transformation, his team was using Scrum and self-organizing, and he felt these two were flipped and he now had 70% of his time for important activities.
I could actually see his enthusiasm when he said that transitioning to Scrum was the best decision he had made. He was now free to do more of the work that he loved to do; the work that energized him. He is able to be creative and innovative and not have his energy drained by focusing on administration.
Before Agile Transformation, Most Managers Focus on the Wrong Things
I would contend that most first level managers today are playing down a level and focusing on the wrong things. Most first line managers are glorified babysitters. While they may have leadership skills, the bulk of their time is spent on administration, on keeping everyone busy, and on keeping too many projects going at the same time.
Rather than hiring great people, empowering and trusting them as the Agile Principle says, many managers today are still moving team members around like chess pieces on a chess board. They get involved in the day to day work and tasks and make most of the decisions. In the worst cases, they act as if the important job they do is to manipulate the percentages in the resource assignment spreadsheet so that the fractional resource numbers add up to 100% allocation.
Earlier this year I wrote about the helicopter managers who hover over their employees and micromanage. I saw these managers in action in a couple of different organizations. They got themselves involved in tasks and decisions that self-organizing Scrum teams could easily handle. They were afraid that others wouldn’t do things correctly or do it their way, and through their actions, they constrained the value and creativity of the people under them. These managers were threatened by the idea that the team could perform well without them.
Leaders Go First In an Agile Transformation
It is important in an Agile Transformation that the leaders actually lead by example and go first. Rather than delegating Agile and Scrum from afar, true leaders will go first and lead by example. It is only by understanding and applying the lean and Agile Principles will the entire organization be able to transform.
Agile expert Brian Irwin recently published 5 Reasons Your Agile Transformation Sucks. He highlighted the fact that many so called Agile Transformations fail. I contend that the root cause of all 5 of his reasons is that the leaders in the organization did not learn and adopt Agile before asking everyone else to do it.
Effective Agile Leaders actually study, embrace and internalize the 12 Agile Principles. The Agile Principles highlight customer satisfaction, frequent value delivery, empowering and trusting people, and the value of self-organizing Agile teams. These principles are a great way to get alignment across the organization.
What Leaders Do After an Agile Transformation
With proper Agile Training, Leaders learn to apply Lean and Agile Principles. They limit work in progress and they dedicate people to teams, and teams to one backlog. They say no to taking on too many projects, establish pull systems, and work with the business stakeholders to prioritize their requests. They make things visible and they begin to address the underlying weaknesses in the organization; they clear the big impediments that slow team productivity like lack of automation.
I have seen first line managers that embrace Agile and Scrum, and others who are threatened. Those that are threatened fear losing control of their “resources” or giving up decision making. The transparency of Agile may also reveal the inefficiencies of their micromanagement. So if department managers are playing a level down from where they should be, they will be exposed.
Rather than fearing Agile, managers and leaders should be like the development manager that I mentioned above. Rather than resist Agile, they could embrace it. They could let go of decision-making and step back and let their Agile Team learn and grow. They have to be willing to let the team make a mistake in order to become a stronger team.
With their focus off the team, they might have time to think strategically, innovate, cast vision, energize people, and help control the number of projects being worked on. They can recruit and attract talented team members to join their team. And they just may find that this is the work that energizes them. And if they don’t, perhaps they are in the wrong role.
- Look Around - Pause your work and do an inventory of the managers in your organization. Are the first line managers in your organization playing down a level? Are they making decisions that would be better left to the team?
- Evaluate the State of Your Agile Transformation - Whether you have just begun a transformation, or have been at this for a while, take a moment to do a self-evaluation. There are many Agile and Scrum Assessments available but a simple and fast thing that you can do is to use the 12 Agile Principles as a checklist. At your next team or department meeting, ask everyone to go principle by principle to rate whether they believe they are living to those principles or not.
- (Gently) Recommend Agile Training - Depending on your relationship with the manager, you may want to gently recommend some Agile Training. Most managers already believe they know what Agile is or they can’t free up for a couple of days to attend class. (See: Yes you reall do need to invest in Agile Training. Here is Why) Where appropriate, recommend training for the entire organization (to include the manager). You can also print a copy of this blog and quietly leave it on your managers desk.