Agile is getting stronger and stronger, every day. No more an option, that’s a must. Isn’t actually something still missing? Where finally managers fit into the Agile equation?
Organizations who want to thrive among disruptions and turbulences, should lay down any digital product/service development or transformation, on the “Agile backbone”. In doing this, several organizational key concepts such as culture, structure, leadership and management, must be re-thought, re-wired, re-imagined.
Agile eradicated and redesigned the way value is created.
Old approaches, processes, rules, procedures and norms, are no longer valid.
Or, at least, those are struggling so much to not be able, anymore, to keep pace. Years ago, some “visionaries” told us that companies, which would not have embraced Agile, have been extinguished like dinosaurs.
Well, these days, it starts to seem reality.
Today customers don’t want to wait months to have their products. They want quality products, which meet their explicit (and latent) needs. They are actually ready and willing to accept incremental delivery of value over time and are accustomed with terms like MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Yet, they want to be engaged by giving feedback, in order to influence development and thus have better products.
Agile creates value through iterative and incremental cycles, which incorporate customers and stakeholders feedback, in a collaborative way.
Power, as was intended years ago, is an outdated, boring if not an annoying concept.
Agile teams, today, have been empowered and given the Autonomy to unleash creativity for finding solutions to complex problems. Team members, are invited to think less to their weaknesses and leverage more on their talents and strenghten their Mastery, definitely becoming more expert, and often smarter, then their bosses.
These people are put to work in safe “environments”, where failure is seen as a great opportunity to learn and improve, not something that must be avoided if not sometimes punished.
Sticks and carrots mantra is no more an option when it’s time to innovate.
Power is more distributed in Agile organizations.
Decisions that are strategic, or infrequent or have impact on economy of scale are still centralized; while urgent decisions, or when local information or expertise judgement is needed, they are more decentralized towards teams.
Silos are definitely killed off by cross-functional, non-hiearchical, flat teams.
Look at Scrum for a second.
It mandates three roles within the Agile teams: Product Owner, Scrum Master and Team Member (or Product Developer). There’s no any boss into that setting. Or, better and actually more amazing and disruptive, even if hierarchical relationships exist between team members, those ones shall not be exercised to influence or condition anyone working in Agile teams.
However, line managers are asked to “serve” these teams by facilitating their work to produce faster and qualitative value creation.
No boss is allowed to rule the game from inside neither from outside.
Complicatedness and Organization Fragility
Due to linear thinking of human beings, complexity seems to be a very tough concept to grasp.
Complexity of our systems grows because of increasing in competition, market disruptions, innovative products, relentless technology advances, proliferation of stakeholders. Combinatorial and recursive effects between the seveal parts of the systems we are in, amplify exponentially this complexity even further,
To respond effectively to this situation, a company, must become more and more nimble and lean and fast, by simplifying procedures and norms.
It happens, though, that the tendency of managers who do not understand complexity, is to respond to this volatily, ambiguity and uncertainty, by getting back to command and control, enforcing and reinforcing rules, procedures, guidelines, processes, which are often in contrast with one another or existing ones.
Thus, instead of getting back to simplicty (the best answer to complexity), that approach increases the level of complicatedness and deteriorates the already scarce performance, hindering companies capacity to innovate.
Managers vs Agile Leaders
Putting myself in the shoes of one of those managers, what above reported is actually huge. Questions naturally arise:
- How could I decrease complicatedness?
- How all that teams’ autonomy is actually transformed into focus and value creation, instead of waste?
- How I could be sure that people which work in my area are performing at expected levels?
- If I am no more supposed to assign any tasks and activities, what the heck should I do now?
Well, let’s see some basic rules and behaviors.
Bring Transparency and Alignment
Managers are requested to bring clarity, transparency. They need to have a clear vision, conveying it to teams, specifying what objectives shall be met. People need to be inspired and put into a safe environment where to explore solutions and being creative.
Crystal clear purpose and vision, a very few rules, smart objectives, all togerher let Agile teams self-organize and find out how to solve complex problems.
This, actually, breaks down complicatedness.
Develop People not Tools
These managers never lose an occasion to develop their people, by giving them new challenges, sending them on trainings if needed, remaining close to them and, why not, coaching them when necessary.
They have a team bias. Their wording is always about We instead of I. They always try to create positive team dynamics and positive environment.
They are connectors. They always try to connect members together, teams together, tribes together. They also incessantly try connect teams with organization stakeholders.
These managers remain close to teams, participating to scrum events like reviews. They practice Gemba walk by visiting them frequenlty, not asking what did you do, but what I can do for you, to improve your work.
In doing this the manager act as a barrier removal at organizational level, and never forget to inform teams about any progress.
Obsession towards Learning
This manager is obsessed about continuous learning. She encourages teams to experiment early and often the most risky things and support in trying to bring customers and stakeholders as close as possible to teams to bring valuable feedback.
She celebrates success as well as failures and invites teams to share all of this in order to speed up learning and passing the message that it’s ok to fail as long as it is shared and, then, it is integrated and becomes organization experience, thus, value for everyone.
These managers understand that in Agile teams is impossible to measure performance of single team members.
Everyone creates value, which is subsequently used and integrated by others team members, Sometimes, additionally, team members work in pairs which makes it impossible to separate value creation. The old way KPIs were used to measure people performance, are no more a viable solution.
These managers, finally, need to get back into trenches, with teams, understanding on the field what is happening, what value is actually being created, how people are behaving, what level of collaboration, creativity, communication are in place.
When managers finally understand and behave as above described, well, we could finally call them Agile Leaders.