Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Getting Agile to Middle Managers

Middle managers are an essential layer in an organization; this layer comprises of leads, and managers who have greater proximity to the development teams and are responsible for project delivery. The middle management layer provides an incubation ground for senior management equipping managers with essential leadership skills for greater responsibilities. The Agile transition should include in its ambit, the ambitions and insecurities of middle managers  to ensure that the Agile rollout is successful, sustained, and enhanced to higher levels of productivity. Following are four areas which require an Agile flavor to win the support of middle management.
  • Career progression – With Agile being an equalizer and tilting the balance in favor of the “doers” the key performance criteria of Lead and above, across disciplines has to be re-evaluated since tracking and assignment are no longer in the purview of managers. Managers and Leads may be threatened by the perceived power of Product Owners and the importance of Scrum Masters. Their responsibilities need to be recast into that of a coach and mentor, they could be encouraged to get back in touch with a hands-on approach, or perhaps take on a strategic role that determines the course of the development team.
  • Clarity of role - Traditional responsibilities may overlap with the new SCRUM roles, Scrum Master and Product Owner. Some managers may fall back to the traditional way of managing teams and this could led to conflicts with the persons donning the Scrum Master and Product Owner roles. As part of the Agile practice, managers should have a forum to discuss the areas of conflict and resolve it in a manner that promotes Agile. Development teams may also require clarity on the roles so they can approach the right roles for support.
  • Grooming development teams - Middle managers are also vested with the responsibility of reviewing and guiding the career progression of development teams. With Agile, Managers must remove extra status meetings and stay tuned to the team and individual's progress through daily standup, and information radiators. This being an indirect method could be a challenge for managers to assess and guide development teams. As part of the Agile Transition, middle managers should discuss with the Agile evangelists ways of evaluating individuals without jeopardizing the team collaboration.
  • Frame of mind - Agile calls for middle managers, among other agilists, to adopt servant leadership which involves selfless service to build the development team. The middle management team needs to be coached and supported along their servant leadership journey.

Career progression, clarity of role, grooming development teams, and frame of mind are by no means an exhaustive list of areas that would require intervention during Agile Transformation. However these four areas are the bulk of the Agile Transformation plan for middle managers.

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