One of the first things I do when I meet a new team is ask them to introduce themselves and tell me a little about what they do. We go around the room and people say things like “hi… I’m Bob and I am the Product Owner” and “hi… I’m Sue and I am the ScrumMaster”. Well inevitibly… once we get going… usually by lunch time… I find out that Bob is really the Director of Development and Sue is the really the team’s Project Manager.
Here’s the deal… we agilists haven’t given our managers anything to do. Many of us believe that there is a role for management on agile teams… some don’t… but we never really say just what that role is. Remove organizational impediments… boring. Make sure people have development plans… boring. It’s not that those things aren’t important… but managers are used to being in the thick of things… they are used to running the show. They are problem solvers.
Because we haven’t given manager’s a role… they have gone into hiding. They call themselves Product Owners and ScrumMasters but in reality they are still Dev Managers and Project Managers. They are still responsible for the performance of their team members and their organizations are still holding them accountable for the outcomes of their team. Here is my question… is this a healthy pattern or an agile anti-pattern… a smell?
It seems to me that we are asking everyone one else on the team to learn, grow, and adapt. We are asking every one else on the team to learn servant leadership and to be collaborative and inclusive and create safe environments. People on teams are going to have managers… that is just a fact. Is it a problem to ask a manager to serve as a Product Owner or a Scrummaster if having that role makes sense? Can we trust a traditional manager to take agile leadership seriously and learn to behave with a servant leader mentality?
The best managers I’ve ever had… agile or not… were servants of the team. They knew how to lead and empower… to prioritize and faciliate. These leaders allowed me to decide what I wanted to work on and held me accountable for my outcomes. We talk alot about how agile allows us to start treating our team members like grown-ups… I’d like to see us start treating managers like grown-ups too. Agile teams are going to have managers… let’s really start giving them something meaningful to do.