outten.net - random thoughts

Agile RTP Talk - What's a Manager To Do?

Last night, Esther Derby came and talked to the local Agile RTP group. Her talk was called “What’s a Manager To Do?”. With agile teams being self-organizing, what is the manager’s role in this situation? An agile team can start to take on some of the items that a manager used to do. Task assignment and tracking are two items that seemed like good candidates for the team to take over. There are some things that require a manager that aren’t going away. HR related issues and budgeting are two examples.
There are several grey areas that could go either way depending on the maturity and organization of the agile team. For instance, conflict/friction issues might need to be handled by a manager, but for the health of the team, might be best addressed at the team or individual level. If someone reports to their manager that someone on the team isn’t performing and the manager goes to this individual and says ‘I heard you weren’t performing (doing or not doing X)’, this isn’t going to be good for the team. Who can they trust on the team? If the team has been letting an issue fester for a long time (not addressing the issue with the other team member), this can cause even more issues. From Esther’s experience, it sounded like 1) openness between the team members is critical and 2) the manager should really fine tune their observation skills so they can catch issues as they come up.

Another grey area is the decision making process. If the team assumes they have the right to make decision X and the manager vetoes this right, that can really discourage the team. It can also work the other way where the team is assuming the manager is going to make a decision, but the manager is expecting that from the team. Esther’s suggestion was to layout a decision matrix that helps clarify who is responsible for making decisions. Although it wasn’t directly said (or I didn’t hear), I suppose this helps with the transparency of the team which is a common theme in the agile space.

An underlying theme, from my perspective, was the reference to teams, in particular team sports, where it truly is a group of players working together (her example was basketball). Many of the agile concepts that appeal to me came from my experiences playing basketball. I am frequently reminded of how my experiences playing on a team were so similar to being on a team at work. Everything from how to interact with others to keeping a goal in mind and staying on target.

Overall, the talk was good and reaffirmed some of the ideas we were already using. Clarifying decision making, dealing with friction and the “team” concept were some of the key points I am taking away from last night.