My post yesterday about managers leading agile teams got quite a bit of attention. We had a great discussion over Twitter and many of you guys left fantastic comments on the blog itself.
The one thing that came out of all that discussion… for me personally… was greater clarity around the real nut of the issue. It’s not so much having managers or not having managers… or defining what managers are going to do… it’s really about positional authority and who is going to be allowed to tell who what to do. I’d like to thank Esther Derby for helping to distill that for me.
Managers in different organizations do management differently. Some managers are like architects or technical leads… and have their hands in day to day technical decisions. Others are non-technical and mainly handle people issues on their teams. I guess the real question is that… regardless of what we ask managers to work on… are managers ever allowed to direct the work of the team?
As long as managers are held responsible for the performance of their teams… this is going to be a somewhat problematic question. Can we trust our managers… who currently HAVE positional authority… and the responsibility that comes along with it… to behave as agile leaders? Can we coach them to set direction but empower, to act as a mentor for their teams, to manage with a light touch, and genuinely help their team members be successful?
Unless we are going to fundamentally change the core structures of our businesses… and tear out all positional authority and management heirarchy… and really hold TEAMS accountable for outcomes… managers are going to be around a while. All I am suggesting is that we really figure out what to do with these folks… explain clearly how we are asking them to change… help them through the transition… and make sure we aren’t holding them accountable for outcomes… and incenting them toward behaviors… that directly contradict the goals of our agile change initiative.
That’s where the ‘let’s treat managers like grown-ups’ comment came from.
PS – My family and I are driving to Destin, FL for a few days… in the rain… and I am blogging for the first time from my iPhone. That is why this post doesn’t have a picture and might even have some goofy spelling or formatting problems. I’d like to thank my wife for taking over driving duty on this leg of the journey!