Agile And The Middle Manager Identity Crisis

By: David Hawks | May 02, 2017 |  Article,  Leadership

A middle manager can feel as lost as this cow saying moo

Going Agile causes a lot of change within an organization, from a process, strategic, and cultural standpoint. A side effect of the Agile adoption is the confusion regarding roles and responsibilities, particularly for middle managers.

For middle managers, everyone is telling you what not to do, but no one is telling you what to do. You have been told that you can no longer:

  • Set the priorities for the team
  • Assign tasks or participate in planning
  • Estimate work
  • Attend Retrospectives or tell the team how to improve their processes

The good news is that with Agile, the tactical work is owned by the team. This frees up leadership to be more strategic.

In an Agile environment, here are four areas I see where middle management can make a huge impact:

  1. People Management
  2. Technical Excellence
  3. Organizational Improvement
  4. Business Alignment

People Management

Remember when you never had time for 1-1s? Well, now you can make this a prime part of your job. You are only as good your team, right? Agile provides leaders the opportunity to switch from being a referee, someone telling people what they can and cannot do, to coaches, someone who challenges their team to be great and working with individuals to remove challenges and discover what motivates them. Your job is to assemble the most kickass team and partner with the ScrumMaster to help them achieve success together. You might challenge them to move past their comfort zone and continually strive to be the best. This also includes performance management of the individuals and the team.

Technical Excellence

Product Owners are typically focused on customer facing functionality. As a technology leader, you also are a key product stakeholder. Technical leaders combined with Architects, push the technical vision. This may include advancing the architecture, addressing technical debt and improving technical practices, ensuring time is being allocated for maintaining test automation, DevOps, and supporting infrastructure.

Organizational Improvement

Organizational improvement is probably the newest discipline for an Agile manager and will establish you as a critical leader in the organization. Your job is to work with your peers throughout the organization to optimize the whole process and to resolve impediments raised by your teams by working with other leaders to make organizational changes as quickly as possible. It is easier to influence people under your “control,” but in this area, you will have to learn how to influence others in the organization that doesn’t work for you, including learning how to impact others up the chain.

Business Alignment

Technology teams have historically been at odds with business units they serve. We haven’t always had a positive track record of delivering what they wanted on time. It’s time to turn this around. Your job is to be seen as a partner whose teams are enabling the success of the business and company. By working closely with this side of the organization, you can help Product Owner communicate clear purpose to the team and ensure alignment.


You got into management to have more influence and continue to grow as a leader, right? Well now is your chance to let go of the tactical and go become more strategic, ultimately giving you the best avenue for greater and more positive impact.

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