Pitfall #5: In an Agile Transformation, Transparency is to Empower, not to Micromanage

By: David Hawks | Oct 27, 2015 |  Agile Transformation,  Article

Part 5 in our 10 Agile Transformation Pitfalls and How to Address Them

With Agile, internal stakeholders, team members, and management have visibility into team activity like they’ve never had before. This transparency is a powerful asset, and how it is wielded has a large impact on the success of an Agile adoption or transformation. This blog discusses pitfall #5 in our blog series, 10 Agile Transformation Pitfalls and How to Address Them. Read about the previous pitfalls in our series:

Pitfall #5: Transparency is Abused

Unlike a carpenter building a dresser or cabinet, you can’t physically see what a developer is building. Agile transparency allows visibility into the virtual. Often when an organization is implementing Agile, this is the first time anyone on the team has had this sort of visibility available to them. To a manager, this extreme transparency sounds like a dream. To a team member unsure about the motives of leaders, this can seem frightening. This is why successful Agile teams need a substantial amount of trust between teams and managers. For team trust to be cultivated and earned, transparency has to be used well, not abused.



Trust or do Not Trust, There is No Middle Ground - TransparencyThe discipline not to micromanage first requires the manager to trust the team.

Abused transparency eats away at culture because it dissolves a fundamental pillar of a team: trust. How do you know if transparency is being abused on your team?

Few leaders step into a situation wanting to micromanage. It just happens. Leaders see a potential or current bottleneck or issue, and they step in to fix it by usurping ownership and telling their team what to do. Many leaders think it’s their job to step in when their team gets over their heads, falls behind or hits an obstacle.  That doesn’t work in Agile. The Agile framework encourages leaders to support teams in managing their work.

Agile involves transferring ownership from the manager to the team. When managers see something not going well, and swoop in and take over to “save the day,” they undermine the Agile framework and the team’s confidence. In these circumstances, the team instantly knows they are not truly being trusted.

Managers also abuse transparency when the team feels as though data has been turned against them. A great benefit to Agile is the capability to measure things that were previously difficult to measure. A leader needs to demonstrate their commitment to using this data for the benefit of the team, and not to the benefit of leadership.

Transparency as a tool

When used well, transparency empowers, builds trust, and supports management decisions.

On an Agile team, management serves, not commands. Agile transparency should empower the team to manage their own workload. The team can learn to spot problems and make adjustments on the fly if given the chance.

Transparency is used as a powerful and effective tool in an environment of mutual respect and trust. As mentioned previously, watching your team approach an issue and trusting your team to adjust appropriately creates a lot of trust. We’re not saying don’t help. However,  we recommend that you think hard about changing your mindset from directing to serving. “How can I help?” is a great question to a team. We have seen this mindset boost team confidence, make the team more willing to take risks, and greatly quicken the learning curve.

Empower Through Transparency

Agile transparency supports decision-making at both the team and management level. Managers often make decisions based on a perception of what’s going on. Agile transparency enables a manager to actually know what the team workload is, actually see if there are any bottlenecks, and make decisions on budgeting, hiring, and other management concerns accordingly.

If every task is cataloged, team members now have the ability to choose tasks to complete based on priority, paving the way to see the impact of change. Once this system of cataloging is in place, it also allows you to capture useful and valid metrics.


If you’ve recently gone through an Agile adoption or you’re considering implementing Agile, give us a call. We would love to connect with you and see how you can use the transparency that is core to the Agile framework to the advantage of your team.

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For more on our approach to building lasting business agility, you can check out our Transformation Services page.

One Response to “Pitfall #5: In an Agile Transformation, Transparency is to Empower, not to Micromanage”

  1. Jeff Brantley

    Good post, Dave. This is such an important issue, even if you aren’t doing “agile” officially, the trust both ways between manager and team is so critical and is so rare. In an Agile transformation as one of the pillars, not having this trust totally undermines the effort. When I see weird behavior from individuals, I no longer look at that person, I’ve started looking at the leadership. I must say that often the root of the issue with these leaders is a classic top-down, bean-counter mentality and a misguided “planning” discussion of ‘resources’ rather than people. I smell Taylor’s scientific management all over it. These are knowledge workers. Not identical widgets on assembly lines. I’m excited when I see the maturity of some leaders who understand the systemic impact of the way we treat people and trying to build good teams who are trusted and engaged.

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