Sunday, April 6, 2014

Role of Managers in Agile

In today's competitive marketplace, organizations are under increasing pressure to continue to deliver value to key stakeholders that include shareholders, customers and employees - the value delivered to these stakeholders being, respectively, revenue and profits, great products and service, and happy and engaged employees. Numerous organizations are also adopting Agile and Scrum methodologies to deliver this value at a rapid pace.

In this post, I talk about some of the key ingredients that can make managers successful in an Agile environment, and therefore, help them become effective agents at creating value in multiple ways. People managers are in the middle of all the aforementioned stakeholders, and are the bridge between two very important parts of an organization - strategic thinkers or leaders and the teams responsible for execution and delivering results at the grassroots levels. 

I think there are four key areas that managers can heavily influence in driving successful teams, and thereby generate value. Below, I enumerate these in no particular order or importance.

Uphold and foster Agile principles
  • Help Agile understanding
  • Help streamline Agile ceremonies (go to at least 1 standup/week per project, attend demos, don't miss out on sprint retrospectives if invited by Scrum team)
  • Believe in team empowerment
  • Do not second guess team decisions
  • Assist in impediment removal, especially in relation to other teams that the Scrum team works with

Evangelize and socialize
  • Uphold, evangelize and spread the word about Agile best practices
  • Include multiple audiences – vertical (both up and down) and horizontal (peers in same department as well as cross-functional and cross-stream)
  • Share success stories to improve organization wide Agile adoption

Believe in and live by good behaviors
  • Understand
  • Encourage and Enthuse
  • Assist
  • Resist process destroying behaviors and actions
  • Empower
  • Believe
  • Mentor
  • Respect and have compassion

Train, coach and mentor
  • Consider becoming a Certified Scrum Master
  • Encourage senior team members to become Certified Scrum Developer/Master/Professional
  • Encourage everyone in the team to get Agile fundamentals training
  • Proactively coach and mentor team on good Agile principles

Managers who focus on the above areas are bound to successful in managing Agile teams.       
Be a ScrumMaster

I also feel that a manager should be a ScrumMaster for a project, at least for some time (a few sprints or couple of releases). Some believe that this is not a good idea as there could be a clash of interest; a manager may potentially push the team too much and take away team empowerment and autonomy in some way. My take on this is different. A manager who does not effectively understand Agile is likely to cause disruption in an Agile SDLC anyways, irrespective of where he or she is a ScrumMaster or not. On the other hand, being a ScrumMaster makes a manager more aware of how they can help Agile teams. It is a great exercise that can help managers become better as they get to live what a Scrum team lives every day and see how they can play their manager role more effectively in creating a more robust Agile culture. For obvious reasons, it is important that the manager put away his or her manager hat when they put their ScrumMaster hat on.

To summarize, I believe that managers, being in the midst of action and connecting everyone together, are uniquely placed to play a very important role in driving success in Agile organizations. Successful Agile managers take their teams to new levels of achievement and fulfillment; in the process, they create happy employees that deliver better products and services.