What to do with managers?

First, unlike some in the agile community, I think managers can be and even are useful in lean-agile-scrum.  Even essential.

The first problem is that we do not explain to them how things have changed, and how they can be effective in the new environment.

Still, there is a lot of evidence, on many levels for two propositions:

  • Some managers can be very detrimental to a lean-agile-scrum implementation.
  • Many managers have not been well trained in how to manage in lean-agile-scrum. In fact, what they have been taught seems to be, to a large degree, the wrong stuff. (At least, it seems, in the US.  In other countries, this may be better.)

So, we agile advocates have a long way to go to get all of the managers ‘fixed’.  I mean both middle and senior managers now. (Yes, the solution for the middle managers might be somewhat different than the solution for the senior managers.)

We want them on the right page with the right attitudes and practices that are consistent with lean-agile-scrum.

So, a few quick ideas on how to fix this:

1. Check out the “Stoos” group (see LinkedIn).

A few people there are a bit too radical for my taste, but that group is working on ‘management.’  They have useful ideas on this problem.

2. Respect change. It is hard.

It does happen. You cannot always make it happen, especially on your own schedule. But sometimes, either before or after you want, people will change. And even in the direction you want, due (partly) to the efforts you made.   …Do not let yourself get depressed, do not give up.

3. Respect the people you are trying to change, and respect that, at least in some ways, their concerns are legitimate.

At least from where they are coming from, there is typically some internal logic to the way they think.  … I find this is hard, because I can so palpably feel the damage these people are doing. It feels like they are trying to be evil sometimes.  Certainly stupid. And I grow impatient.  But mostly they are not evil; they are usually trying to do the best they know how.

4. Look (again) at the standard change books.

Kotter’s books. Fearless Change by Manns and Rising. Others (if you prefer). Many great ideas about getting people to change.  Most of these ideas are discussed well and at length in these books.

5. Make the case.

For the larger change and for each small change.

Repeat it often.  It starts with a Sense of Urgency.

6. A sense of urgency, to me, starts with one person having a passion that, dammit, things have to get better.

And conveying that passion. Maybe in a quiet way. Certainly in a respectful way. But in more an emotional way than a ‘numbers’ way. Although numbers usually need to be in there as well.

7. Use some experiences.

Maybe from articles. Maybe from nearby firms. Maybe from your own firm. It might be thought of as ‘data’ of one sort or another.  There are tons and tons of great articles about experiences with lean-agile-scrum now.  Write your own articles at your company.  Share them.

8. Five books for managers.
Toyota Production System by Taiichi Ohno.
Radical Management by Stephen Denning.
The Power of Scrum by Jeff Sutherland et al.
Software in 30 Days by Schwaber and Sutherland
Drive by Daniel Pink.

9. Motivation.

Often the key, I think, is they misunderstand motivation for knowledge workers. This is why I think Daniel Pink’s book is so useful.

Please comment here. I think this is a hard problem. If we knew the answer well, this problem would be a lot better now.  So please suggest better things.

Please join us.


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