Plunge In or Dip Your Toe? (for Managers)

In the Small Steps and Plunge In posts, I said projects should transition to agile all the way. But does it work the same way for the entire organization?

Nope. I recommend a gradual approach to moving to agile. Not all project teams are ready for the self-discipline agile requires. But, even more importantly, too often management is not ready for the discipline agile requires.

Agile requires the discipline to move projects through teams. Multitasking is nuts in agile. Moving team members around to have the “best” specialist available for a particular team is nuts. Performance reviews for individuals is nuts. Managers have to change everything they do, if they want to move the organization to agile. Managers need to see the problems exposed by any given project's transition to agile and work to remove those obstacles before transitioning to agile.

Transitioning to agile often means also looking at lean approaches to management. Many managers are unable or unwilling to do that.

Managers, dip your toe into agile. That means committing to agile for a team or a project. I hope it means committing to a lean and agile approach to managing the project portfolio. And, it means that all of your systems are ripe for change. If you don't have performance reviews, what do the HR people do?? (Plenty!) If you take an agile or lean approach to procurement, how does that affect purchasing? Accounts payable and receivable?

Moving to agile for the entire organization is a non-trivial problem. The zeroth step is the project. The first step is the project portfolio. Then comes the really hard work: the human systems are the next step. Once you've moved the human systems back to helping the employees, now you can attack the money systems. (One of my clients is trying to do the money systems first, and that's not working. There may be some give-and-take here, with the money and human systems.)

Managers, it's ok to dip your toe into agile for the management systems, as long as you take a coherent piece and commit to agile or lean for that piece. It's not ok to dip your toe for a given project–commit to agile for a project, if that's right for you. And, commit to learning about agile and lean management.

6 Replies to “Plunge In or Dip Your Toe? (for Managers)”

  1. The things you recommend are just good management. They are not unique to the agile environment. The things you describe as “nuts” are counter-productive in any project environment.

  2. I agree with Jim Ward. How long have we been practising continuous build (we called it nightly build), bring in QA early in a project, code reviews, and spiral project management??? Isn’t agile just a new name for my ol’ dog?

    However, I will say this…agile, ultra-light startups, use of open source, crowd sourcing, and the change I see in early stage funding that now requires SOME level of working product and a few customers before getting dollars all point to a new model that has elements of Complex Adaptive Systems – I’ve seen Jim Highsmith & Tom DeMarco (Yourdon too, maybe) notice this as well….I think this is where the real innovation is happening – the old managed/controlled/top down approach to software engineering is being surplanted by something much looser, much more collaborative, much closer to managing chaos, than what us older heads were used to…

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