The Big Game

WRITTEN BY Mike Cottmeyer

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.

Mike

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!

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5 comments on “The Big Game”

  1. Lilian Nijboer

    I read yesterday’s blog with a lot of interest. Glad to read someone in the agile community who is looking for solutions instead of regarding (poject)managers as waste and excluding them. I agreed with a lot of what you wrote.

    This is my take on it: treating us (project)managers like adults also means not talking about us as if we are some kind of alien species (you’re doing pretty well besides the: “these folks”). And certainly not talking about us as if we were a group of 4-year olds who need to be watched and taken care of (even though some managers do behave like 4-year olds, but then again so do some developers, testers etc. ;)).

    A lot of the (project)managers I know are professionals who want to change and are willing to let go of positional authority to help the organisation forward. But somehow a lot of people in the agile community have some kind of allergic reaction the moment you mention you are a (project)manager. So I think a lot of problems could be solved by treating (project)managers as a part of the organisational change and seeing them as the intelligent, willing to change people they usually are.

    Reply
  2. Mike Cottmeyer

    Great point…

    I am a project manager… although I don't do much project management anymore… so the "these folks" comment is said from the perspective of someone on the inside ;-) …someone with a sincere love for the profession!

    Thanks for the comment!

    Mike

    Reply
  3. Bob Williams

    Mike,

    Give your wife the iPhone and slowly back away….Take a breath and enjoy the time off.

    Bob

    Reply
  4. Mike Cottmeyer

    That's… good……… advice……………Bob!

    Reply
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