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Roles for Managers and Executives do change in Agile transformation efforts. Often, organizations overwhelmingly focus in changing only the Team members’ behaviors, as outlined in my previous post The Forgotten Agile Members: Management and Executives. By not investing in Managers or Executives, this can lead to unmet expectations, frustration and disappointment for Agile.

In this post, I’d like to focus in on more specific behaviors needed by Managers and Executives to help organizations get the most out of their Agile transformation initiatives.

To begin, several types of detrimental Managers/Executive personas have been observed. The intention here is to not accuse people of being bad persons. Rather, in the spirit of self improvement, Managers and Executives who can objectively step back and recognize if they have exhibited one or more of these personas can then help improve both themselves and their organization’s transformation effort.

  • Square Peg & Round Hole. Trying to force-fit Agile approaches unilaterally onto existing metrics and reporting processes. This usually causes unhealthily focus on improper metrics such as number of hours worked or points of work completed vs. actual work product completed or customer satisfaction.
  • The Non-Present Manager. This person disappears completely, since team is self organizing. This can be detrimental especially if the team is physically co-located elsewhere. With Managers out of touch, Team members can feel out of loop when it comes to performance reviews and general career growth.
  • The Silent Manager. This person faithfully attends meetings. However, they provide no feedback, no solutions, or support other than “good job.” They wait and see what happens next.
  • “Bungee” Managers. These folks unexpectedly pop in, leave “bombs” and/or stir up the pot with outdated or irrelevant information, then suddenly pop out again.

To reduce the chances of adopting or maintaining any of these types of personas, here are five tips Managers or Executives to consider to help Team(s) and organization gain greater returns in an Agile environment:

1. Stop “managing”. Be a coach. Consistently hold regular one-on-ones with your staff and/or direct reports. Avoid cancelling. Treat this as sacred time. Understand their concerns. Remove their barriers. Understand their professional development goals, and ensure participation on Agile is aligned with those goals.
2. Attend reviews. This is your insight into how well your staff is performing. Ask questions. Be present; don’t look at your smart phone the entire time. This is your chance to not only see the work product, but also provides you a valuable opportunity to observe how well your staff are personally and professionally doing.
3. Don’t use artifacts in “hindsight”. Resist temptation to use, for example, burn-down charts after a sprint is over to penalize or try to understand what went wrong. This is a team artifact. Ask about release burn-up, and help them go faster by removing anticipated blockers.
4. Don’t poach your own resources. Emergencies happen. They just do. But think very, very carefully about pulling a resource off an Agile team to work on an issue. Over time, I’ve seen Teams crumble when resources are consistently pulled off already committed work. It gets worse when the Team members get berated for not completing committed work fast enough or on time.
5. Remove blockers. Agile and Lean methods highlight long-standing issues very quickly (e.g. poor configuration management, lack of testing environments, key code promotion processes, bad relations with other internal departments, etc.). Help your team by removing those blockers for them.

I have observed that organizations see much greater returns out of an Agile transformation when Managers and Executives invest in themselves to embrace changes in their behaviors with the same vigor and attention as the Teams.

So, if you are a Manager or Executive, pick one of the five tips above and consciously work on it. Put it on your calendar. It will take time out of your day to make the adjustments and improvements. Once you have made some steps in one area, pick another. Consider posting a visual board in your office to show your progress.

If you are a Team member thinking, “I could never tell my Manager or Executive this,” stop and ask yourself why. If you’re not getting feedback from your Managers or Executives, for example, in reviews, be more proactive – ask for it. Better yet, ensure your reviews are structured to invite high-impact two-way discussion versus simply a presentation. Even consider calling for a special retrospective session with your Managers to help improve relationships and effectiveness. Don’t be put off if you hear no; understand why and have a dialogue.

Change does not come easily or lightly. When the switch is turned on and Teams, Managers and Executives are going in same direction with same passion, I’ve seen amazing gains out of entire organizations.

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Emergent design and the benefit of hindsight