Role of a manager in an agile or scrum environment


You are a team manager and your organization just decided to switch to scrum or any other agile methodology. You hear words agile and thinking to yourself – what am I going to do? What is my role as a manager in this new agile world. I no longer need to assign tasks, I am no longer expected to provide estimates. I am no longer making design decisions. My team is now suppose to do it all themselves. Do I even have a job?

Yes you do!!!! and you job is now more complex than ever. Agile world is where the true difference between a leader and a manager comes. As a manager you had control. You were able to tell you employees what to do and possibly even how to do it. As a leader you set a direction and you hope that your employees will follow.

Your job is to create an environment in which the team can do its best work. You need to explain to the team members the results you want and get out of their way.

Here are few major components that will define your new role in an organization.

Protect/shield your organization

There will be many forces that will attempt to derail your team and their agile approach. This is especially true in the beginning of your journey.There will be emergencies in which human’s nature will push them towards what they know best – high direction and control. There will be business needs that will force people to start asking your team to commit to more than they can deliver. There will be many others. Your job is keep them all on course and protect your team.

Identify and remove organizational impediments

Your team or maybe your department moved to agile, but did the whole company? Will you IT group now embrace your short timeframes? Will they be able to provide you with hardware your project needs when they only have one sprint to procure it? WIll you HR understand when you start putting ‘agility’ or ‘scrum’ in your job descriptions. Will everyone in your organization understand that you may not be able to provide same type estimates as you used to. As a new agile leader it’s your job to remove all of this obstacles and allow your team to focus on what’s important – delivering high value products.

Responsible for organizational agility

Agile is a mindset. It’s not a documented process that one can follow. As a leader your every day and every minute job is to influence that mindset and spread out agile development ideas. Every decision you make, starting from hiring to performance reviews, from project planning to product architecture, must be guided by agile principals. As a leader it’s your job to to carry on the agile torch and help your team to get though whatever might be thrown at them without loosing focus.

Coach and inspire.

Your team is looking at you as a leader. Help them grow. Do not provide them with answers but rather ask them questions that will force them to come up with their own solutions. Allow them to fail. They need to fall down to get up and be stronger. Lead by example and set goals. Allow your team to reach those goals and exceed their own expectations.

Performance reviews

As a manager you are expected to conduct regular performance reviews. You need to make sure you apply the same agile principals to your evaluations as you apply to your products. Are you measuring your people on individual performance or their team work, is it on their personal knowledge or their collaboration skills. As an agile leader your job is to measure your employees and provide them feedback based on those values that you are trying to foster. Regular (frequent) performance evaluations are more important in an agile world than ever before. Allow your teams to have information and be able to correct their behavior before they fail.

Handle administrative duties.

When you became a manager it’s possible that you thought that now you get to tell others what to do. If so you are in for a disappointment. As a manager in an agile team you become everything your team is not. You are an administrative assistant, you are a order taker, you are a food orderer, you are a trash collector, you are the ‘go get it done for me’ person. You need to do whatever you can to help your teams stay focused. Does your employee need to take off early to buy schools supply for their child? Why don’t you run to the store while that employee finishes few more story points. The team needs to produce reports? Guess who can help them with it. Your team’s main goal is to develop products, you, on the other hand, take on all the responsibilities that are not directly producing that goal.

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