Agile Adoption For Managers

One question that I run across quite often is “What will agile development do for my organization?” What many people mistakenly do is equate agile project management with doing more work, with less documentation and fewer people. Although the premise is to get more done in a more favorable way, I have never met a team that could successfully implement agile principles without having to slow down first.

In fact, I would challenge that initially agile development causes teams to move slower! I know what your next question is: “Why bother?” Well, please allow me to clarify. Agile project management is your friend! Many managers do not take the time to understand what agile of any flavor will do and are completely caught off guard when they discover that things do not always fall out exactly like they had envisioned.

After enduring endless nagging by my peers, I decided that a guide was needed for managers to set true expectations with regard to an agile development project roll out. When I consulted with some of the organizations I have worked pretty extensively with, they all replied that they would be delighted to give me input, but were disappointed that it would take me this long to put a simple list like this together. For all of you who wish you had this already, I am sorry in advance. Now is the time to get busy and take action!

This two-part series will engage agile managers at any level and help them best understand the fundamentals and embrace what they need to know about agile. The long-preserved secret is that agile project managers really only need to know three things to be successful.
1.Become a servant leader. Although it may take some time to redirect your energy toward removing obstacles, the new focus will allow you to concentrate more on the larger picture and less on the day-to-day needs of the team that works for you. Less command & control and more accountability will make you a sure winner.

2.Allow agile to identify areas where improvement is needed. I recently engaged an organization and met a non-believer. When I asked him about his experience with agile, I nearly had a heart attack when he claimed that it simply does not work. “All agile did was identify all of the things we were doing wrong,” he said. I just smiled and nodded. Those are the things that you were meant to be doing better. Take advantage of this golden opportunity and allow agile to help you get better!

3.Take the time to understand the fundamentals of the framework, methodology, and terminology! How much more will the team respect you for taking the time to invest in their success by learning more about what you are asking them to do? We all know that things will need to storm a little before becoming a high performing team.

The first step will be the easiest one. It is all a matter of breaking down where and how accountability may rest. Most managers fail to realize that there are qualified people who work for them that can take on most of what you throw at them. I often find myself in management sessions telling them to try and delegate their way out of a job. I assure them that by doing so, they will find new ways to engage and work with the organization and find new ways to help them be successful.

It is essential to recognize that a large number of the problems teams face can and should be handled by the team themselves. If the team ever encounters a problem that is out of their league, they will always have someone to turn to in the form of a project manager, ScrumMaster, or product owner who can assist them in resolving most common issues. This is the second line of defense.

In rare cases where this second group cannot bring resolution to an issue, the issue is sometimes brought to the attention of management. I guess this begs the question, “How do I keep busy now?” Well, for starters, this allows you to better focus on delivery and execution of the vision. Many agile organizations get lost in the vision and lose focus on the strategy needed to execute the vision. If the team has a clear path and direction from you, they will be successful.

Once you realize that you can relax, the final step is to help the team understand commitment and responsibility. When I am working in the role of management, many people comment that I allow my teams an excessive amount of responsibility. I let the teams self-regulate for the most part, and hold each other to the highest standards. As a result, I am able to set my expectations very high. There is no confusion surrounding my expectations: I fully expect that you will do all that you have promised. This type of relationship is healthy and the teams enjoy both the freedom and the level of accountability I hold them to.

The next step is to allow agile to identify key areas for improvement. Do not fear what the agile process identifies! In fact, I hope that you will embrace and address all that comes to the surface.

One of the keys to agile success is transparency. The right hand needs to know and understand what the left hand is trying to do. The teams will have the greatest chance of success when common obstacles can be identified and removed. Teams discover that the business transforms into a place where they actually enjoy coming in to work. Without transparency, this could not be possible.

Embracing transparency and what it exposes is not intended to be an easy undertaking. Expect the storm and celebrate the success once the storm dies down and the team embraces accountability. Managers become part of a brain trust that will rely on results of the delivery team in order to make sound financial and business decisions. The key here is to teach the teams that with great power comes great responsibility. They will continue to be cast in a positive light for as long as they continue to deliver.

Finally, in order to be successful, you need to show the team that you have a vested interest in their success. This is your chance to do the research needed and show the team that you do understand what they are doing and support their effort. In early 2010 I hope to publish a glossary for managers that will assist them in finding the information they need to help their teams taste success.

Until then, I have left you with enough to work on. Enjoy the post and I will continue soon.

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