The Manager’s Role in an Agile Transformation

Agile transformations are tough. That’s because wherever you start, the agile transformation creates culture clashes.

Often, teams start with agile approaches. Teams discover the agile approach and practices that work for that team. Then, as the team gains experience, they refine their approach and practices. That’s the external part of what we see in an agile transformation.

However, there is an internal, hidden part behind every successful agile team. The team changes their team’s culture. Successful agile teams create a culture that values transparency, collaboration, and frequent delivery with feedback. Too often, the organization doesn’t want the customer or PO collaboration or enough feedback.

That’s not because people in the organization are stupid. It’s because the organizational culture doesn’t recognize or reward the parts of the team’s culture that makes it possible to use agile approaches.

That change in how we work and what we value—the culture—is what we need from managers in an agile transformation.

When teams change, that’s a great start at bottom-up change. The problem is that bottom-up change,  can’t change the organization’s culture. You’ve seen stuck transformations? Or, worse, bounce-back to waterfall or some other project approach that doesn’t fit anyone’s needs? (It’s possible to use waterfall and be successful. I outlined the conditions for waterfall success in Manage It!)

That’s where managers fit, in that messy middle of the culture changes.

Managers create and refine their organization’s culture. You might have noticed that some teams have their own culture and that culture differs from the organization’s culture.

One organization likens itself to a family. The senior managers do feel comfortable with each other, often socializing with each other.

However, the teams do not feel like families. The managers are convinced that to create a “productive” organization, they need to rank everyone against each other and fire the bottom 10% each year. (That’s the rank and yank myth.)

This organization is trying to use agile approaches. It’s not working so well for them because their policies actively work against collaborative teams.

The teams need some coaching to be able to release small features often. However, that’s not the big problem.

Even more important, the managers need to understand if they really want agile approaches, with the changes in culture that would create. If so, the managers need coaching.

An agile transformation is a strategic change for an organization, not a tactical change. Agile approaches require these kinds of culture changes:

  • From resource utilization to collaboration and throughput
  • From individual work assignment to team assignments and team delivery
  • From management-planned details to managers facilitating conversations and decisions
  • From predictions as plans to working product and empirical measures to inform more replanning
  • From single-loop planning to double-loop planning where we challenge assumptions and encourage change

There may be more. I’m in the midst of writing and thinking about this and how to frame it so people can see the issues. Maybe even some solutions.

If you are wondering about how your managers can help with your organization’s agile transformation, or how you can help nudge your culture to a more agile culture, please check out the Influential Agile Leader workshop, June 7-8, 2018 in Boston. The early bird registration lasts only until May 1. Please do join us.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.