Webinar Recap: Agile Leadership: A Manager’s Role in Organizational Agility

By: Agile Velocity | Apr 23, 2018 |  Leadership,  Video,  Webinar

Agile Leadership: The Role of the Manager in Organizational Agility
In this webinar, Agile coaches, Braz Brandt and David Hawks, discussed the evolving role of the Agile manager, a development path to evaluate and design manager growth, and how this affects an organization’s agility. See below to watch the recording, read the executive summary, and get answers to additional questions from our webinar audience.


Executive Summary Of Webinar

Here are the main takeaways from this webinar. If you’d like to dig into the ideas in more detail, we added the timestamp for each talking point.

  1. In this webinar, Braz and David dig into the Learn stage of Agile Velocity’s transformation framework, The Path to Agility®. Most organizations don’t spend enough time focusing on organizational level change at this stage. [min. 1:00 – 2:00]
  2. Companies hire great engineers and a great engineer doesn’t always make a great manager. The two roles require a very different set of skills. [min. 6:12 – 7:11]
  3. In the past, companies have commonly used the Command and Control model to manage employees, where managers focus on creating repeatable processes. This doesn’t work anymore because problems faced by organizations today are more complex and more dynamic than they have ever been. [min. 7:45 – 9:30]
  4. The role of the new Agile manager is not to tell their employees exactly what to do, but to create the conditions that allow for a team or an organization to probe, sense and respond to emerging customer and market opportunities. Responsibilities of a new Agile manager:
  • Defining and evangelizing a clear and compelling vision
  • Creating alignment and clarity
  • Provide mentoring and career growth paths
  • Circulate and advance learning
  • Help maintain consistency across teams, squads, trains, divisions
  • Create and maintain high-performing teams empowered to solve business problems [min. 11:00 – 13:30]
  1. It’s important for Agile Managers to gain the skills needed to be a great manager—when managing yourself and others. Take the time to work on yourself and think about how you approach management and growth. [min. 13:30 – 21:30]
  2. Grow structures to support mastery. It’s important to provide guilds, communities of practice, etc. to your employees so that they have the resources to continue to grow and improve. [min. 21:30 – 22:22]
  3. Energize people with purpose. Remember your “why” and always communicate this to your teams. [min. 22:22 – 23:08]


Need more guidance when it comes to agile leadership? Learn more about how Agile Velocity can help you and your organization grow through true agile leadership.

Book an Agility Discovery Session with an Agile Coach. | 512.298.2835

Read on for answers to questions we did not get to answer during the webinar as well as some additional resources on managing others with agility.


Additional Questions from the Audience

1. Do you recommend having a manager manage a guild? Should you have responsibility for all of a testing guild or a development guild? What are the positive and negative aspects?

Long-term, I wouldn’t. If our goal is creating the organizational resilience that’s provided by empowered, high-performing teams, then the guilds—or Communities of Practice, or whatever other names you create for these “cross-team” collections of people with similar skill sets—then those teams should also become high-performing, self-managing teams.

Where I see traditional “line managers” playing a role with these guilds in the long-term is more of a servant-leader, ScrumMaster-type of role. Much like a ScrumMaster helps to see the larger picture and helps a delivery team keep their commitments to themselves and the larger organization, a modern manager takes on a role to support these guilds. Managers can help the larger organization address the impediments our guilds uncover and help provide the guardrails our guilds need to remain effective.

There are times that people within our organization don’t take ownership for their guilds. In those cases, managers need to step into a “seed” role, to create the initial guilds, encourage participation, and create a path to shifting leadership of these guilds from managers and management to guilds self-selecting their leaders regardless of positional authority. As a manager, I was ultimately responsible for the growth and advancement of my staff; as a modern manager, I want to make sure that I provide the structures and space for my staff to grow both in their craft and as individuals. Trusting our teams—delivery teams and guilds—is a key component of helping your staff develop.


2. What would you say is the best approach for a newer Agile Manager to empower a team who has not always functioned well together to begin using Agile Scrum framework and have them collaborating with one another?

As I read this question, I’m struggling with the assertion that a Manager can empower a team. In her book, Powerful, Patty McCord says “A company’s job isn’t to empower people; it’s to remind people that they walk in the door with power and to create the conditions for them to exercise it”. Our role is to stop taking our team’s power away. It’s a subtle but important distinction.

If we recognize that the job of Management in the Management 1.0 and Management 2.0 models was to put limits on the power of the individual in service to consistency and predictability of output, then the question becomes something new – “What am I doing as a Manager to take power away from my team?”

That said, one of the most powerful things that a Manager can do is to create the expectation that the team has the resources and authority it needs to deliver on the items in their backlog. Then, when things arise that prevent your team from delivering on their work, the expectation becomes that Managers and Management have vestigial processes and procedures in place that need to be examined and fixed. Our organization shifts from providing things to our teams—ideas, projects, resources—to supporting our teams’ independence and excellence.


3. If Leadership/Management of a distributed, multi-country, multi-vendor organization wanted to go for Agile, what is your recommendation?

Start with “why”? What are they trying to solve? Faster time-to-market? More visibility? Greater predictability? From there, identify the major pains they are feeling. Until those two things are understood jumping to a framework suggestion would be, for lack of a better word, irresponsible.


4. Do you feel that SAFe®, which has more of a larger organizational view and engagement, positions organizations for better (or worse) Agile adoption?

The answer depends on your perspective. If you are looking for team-level Agile transformation, then SAFe® would probably not be a good option. However, if you are looking at a larger scale Agile transformation across programs (multiple teams), portfolios, and business, then SAFe® is a good choice for scaling Agile.

Some agilists feel that SAFe® is intrinsically not Agile, but in reality, every SAFe® level emphasizes iterative/incremental development, work decomposition, ruthless prioritization, WIP limits, pull-based flow, and lean economics—which are all hallmarks of Agile.


5. How would you go about helping a waterfall Project Manager transition into a more agile approach?

Helping them identify what skills they have to support agile teams and products would be key to making sure they have a smooth transition. From there, we would help them find places to lean in and find potential role options in support of teams delivering a product.


6. When do managers own the responsibility of knowing or being aware that “they” are the constraint to the team motivation and performance decline? Something like proactively, participative leadership.

As soon as possible. Henrik Kniberg, an Agile Coach at Spotify, says that “If an organization doesn’t like honesty, they won’t like agile”. Building a continuous improvement culture means being open and transparent about what is slowing down progress. Unfortunately, this sometimes means it is our actions or the system we are creating that becomes the constraint to improvement. This is hard but should be something that is identified as early as possible.


7. With our Executive Leadership, there has historically been a focus on delivery (points), and we see the need to shift the focus toward the outcome. Realizing this is a potentially large discussion, do you have any quick points to help us with this transition?

Showing usually speaks volumes more than words. Show them this quick 40-second video, then discuss how working really hard on the wrong thing is still working on the wrong thing no matter how hard, fast, or efficiently you work.


8. From industry experience, in which organizational structure is agile more successful? Flat structure or hierarchical structure?

The flatter the structure the less potential for communication breakdown. Making sure there is enough support for each person as far as management goes without creating artificial boundaries between decision-makers is essential. If leadership is truly providing vision and direction and those closest to the problems are empowered to solve them, then the levels of hierarchy can be beneficial to limit the distribution of support.



Resources on Learning to Manage Yourself and Others:

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