Thoughts on Management
In response to the following blog posts regarding management in Agile processes:
Managers Are Grown-ups, too
Can Managers Lead Agile Teams?
I absolutely agree with the premise that one of the reasons Agile works well (when it works) is because it allows the engineers to indiscreetly yet directly and intelligently control and mitigate a manager’s influence – what has failed to be recognized / admitted by the Agile community is that this just inevitably builds new ways (well, not really) to fail (e.g. all the Agile attempts that fail due to mismanagement because the engineers have no better management chops than their managers). It’s about time Agile communities started to address this problem of what really ought to happen to traditional managers and how to inspect, adapt, and improve on the managerial side of the house.
Many managers and management teams use Agile as an excuse to lose cognizance about the what, why, how, and who of the activity of their team. All they feel responsible for under Agile is knowing when things will be done and a summary of the what’s, who’s, and maybe why’s of development activity. This attitude seems to accompany a lack of interest and knowledge regarding the personal interests and motivations of team members and a disconnect with the fact that these concerns are central to their role – that, as managers, they need to be proactive in learning and discerning them.
From the articles, this doesn’t appear to be particularly uncommon in Agile. Either (1) organizations don’t adopt Agile because they see managerial circumvention as inevitable or (2) Agile fails because the necessary leadership doesn’t emerge as is suppose to happen and/or should already be present in existing management.
Either way, if a manager’s primary concern is not his employees and their satisfaction, he is doomed to failure. Employee satisfaction and budget/schedule do not have to be opposing forces. In fact, with a good balance that emphasizes that employees matter first while not excusing poor performance, a manager should find that he gets more bang for his buck out of his employees because they remain retained/loyal, interested, and self-motivated to perform and improve.
Agile is good at evoking these traits within engineers precisely because it puts engineers at the center of the concern of their work. Personally, I suspect the leading reason while Agile is all the rage these days is because older, more standard processes have become more about the bureaucratic machinations of human resources, schedules, man-power allocation, and budgets rather than keeping talented employees happy and involved beyond that of being mere cogs in the work that they are about.
Management is high-level mentoring. As a manager, you must invest yourself and your time in your people and their work; otherwise, your people won’t invest the best of themselves and their time in you and your work. For them, work will be just a timeout from their real life until they can find a better gig.