Agile Management in the Real World

Why don't we talk about the role of management in Agile? Marc Danziger makes the case for a thoughtful discussion.

At Eliassen Group, we have offered our perspectives on technical capabilities, Agile and Biopharma, and Successful (PI) Planning. Now we'd like to dig a little deeper into an element of Agile that is often forgotten in terms of business agility in general – and that's Agile management, or how management works in the Agile world.

The Roles of a Manager in an Agile World

As we try and figure out an Agile position on management, I’ve got to toss a rock into the pond (both because I like throwing rocks, and because I like splashes). There’s an elephant in the room we need to address as we talk about Agile management, which are three of the key roles (in fact, one might say essential roles) of a manager:

  • Hiring
  • Correcting
  • Firing

At the end of the day, the responsibility for choosing who joins an organization – in what role – is one of the key power relationships in any organization. In my time as a manager/leader of teams, programs, and organizations I’ll say that the ability to choose the right people and bring them into the right role in the organization is the biggest determinant of success.

As is the responsibility for correcting. I’ve had to correct folks for everything from theft to sexual and racial harassment to just not executing the responsibilities of the role well. These are never things you want to do as a leader or manager. But they are ultimately a responsibility that has to be someone’s. You can involve or delegate to HR, but there has to be a mechanism to pull the two standard negative deviations' deviant behavior towards the norm.

And finally, if the above two fail, there’s the responsibility to terminate someone’s role in an organization.

Every one of these is a personal execution of power; one person’s power to select and determine another’s suitability for a role, admonish and advise them when they are not succeeding in the role, and finally, to end someone’s role in an organization. And organizations establish roles in large part, based on granting them that power.

Why We Need to Talk About Agile Management Now

We don’t talk about these things in Agile much; we need to. I think we tend to assume away a lot of things in our work to help people, teams, and organizations perform better; Agile has been successful in many ways at making that happen.

But as Agile spreads out of what I call the "work surface" and into the organization more broadly, we need to do two things:

  • Better define the interface between parts of an organization where people are working in Agile ways and parts where they aren’t;
  • Define – if we can – Agile mechanisms and patterns to replace or shape the hierarchical patterns of traditional management.

I’m consciously not letting myself leap to a conclusion with an answer here, because what I really want to do is trigger a broad discussion where we formulate and examine alternatives based on what people are doing and on what they might do.

This approach shows how Eliassen Group is willing to dig deep into aspects of Agile that aren't always discussed, like management or HR, and our team has the experience to look at all possibilities.

If you are interested in learning more, read about Eliassen Group's Agile Consulting Services.