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Empathy for Technology Managers in Agile

Empathy for Technology Managers in Agile

Anthony Mersino

February 26, 2019

9:24 AM

In my related post about what agile coaches need to succeed, I wrote about the idea of walking in the shoes of those we coach. This would include Scrum Masters, Teams, Product Owners. But it also needs to include technology managers. Technology managers are key stakeholders in any sort of agile transformation. In this role of agile leader, they should be supported and encouraged rather than maligned. 

As Bob Galen has noted, it is easy to bash key stakeholders like technology managers in agile transformation. For coaches like myself who don’t have hands-on experience in this role, we can show a lack of empathy for their role.

One great piece of coaching that I received from Bob Galen was to go out and shadow technology managers to gain a better understanding of their role and their challenges. This blog includes my key takeaways from a series of interviews I conducted with various technology managers. 

Interviewing Technology Managers in Agile

Since reading Bob’s blogs on this topic and speaking to Bob, I’ve been trying to learn all I can about the technology role. I’ve been interviewing them to better understand their ideas about agile before going through a transition, their expectations after, and their current challenges and pain points. Below is a summary of my key findings.

  1. It Gets Easier – A couple of managers I talked to thought that the job of leading a technology team gets easier when the team is self-organizing. This gets the agile leader out of the way of directing tasks to individuals and lets them focus on more interesting or important work. See Another Great Benefit of Agile Transformation.
  2. Agile Teams Mature – Most managers learned that over time, agile teams learn and mature. And as they mature, the role of the manager needs to change so that managers begin to step back as teams are capable of stepping up. The move from ‘managing’ to performing as an agile leader.
  3. Tech Managers Really Like This – Some things that technology managers said they liked about agile and scrum included standardization and organization. They liked that the product backlog is one place where work could be viewed and prioritized. They also liked the business engagement and the fact that everyone had skin in the game.
  4. Where Managers Feel Agile Falls Short – Some managers feel that agile ‘lets the team off the hook’ on delivery dates and some of those might be really important for the business. It is also possible to miss dates because the product owner prioritized some work as more important than others.
  5. No Change Request Process in Agile – Some managers felt that since agile generally doesn’t include a CR process, teams would take on more scope and that would blow the budget.
  6. Cross Training is Not Always Practical – The idea of cross-training the team to develop more T-Shaped skills may not be practical when working with very diverse technologies. Plus, some roles just may not be able to cross-train to write python code.
  7. Roles in Agile – There seems to be a widespread understanding of the role of the Scrum Master. Some tech managers wanted the Scrum Master to report to them; others felt the Scrum Master should be taking on the role of project manager. Others felt that self-organization and collective ownership for some roles like architecture or business analysis was problematic.
  8. Still Accountable for Delivery – Most managers felt that they were still on the hook (single throat to choke) for the delivery of the agile team. Most didn’t feel comfortable letting the team struggle or even fail occasionally. Navigating the interface with business stakeholders was a challenge for managers post-transition to agile.

In one of our interviews I used the whiteboard to capture feedback from one of the managers. I asked him to outline all the focus areas for managers and in particular those areas that are impacted by agile ways of working. The photo below shows the resulting drawing.

Key focus areas identified during the discussion include:

  • Leadership Interface
  • Finance
  • Human Resources Role
  • Employees 
  • Business Interface
  • Other

Agile manager and Agile Leader Brainstorm Discussion 2019


Are You a Technology Manager in Agile?

If you are current in the role of a technology manager in an agile environment, I’d love to get your reaction to this blog.

You might also enjoy this video interview with Technology Leader David Sohmer who speaks about how Technology Managers can succeed with Agile. Or learn about the key steps leaders need to take to support agility in their organization based on a study by Forbes Insights.

We also provide training courses which are designed to help managers and leaders thrive in an agile context. Please visit the Vitality Chicago Agile Training Page or the Agile for Leaders Course page.

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