Managers Are Still Good for Self-Organizing Agile Teams
If agile teams self-organize, do they really need managers? To answer this, it’s important to remember that the agile practices are focused on managing the project, so that the people on the team can successfully deliver product value. While delivering successful software can do a lot for encouraging a healthy team and happy team members, it is not everything.
The role of a manager is different on an agile team from on a nonagile one. In particular, a manager in an agile team is more of a facilitator and enabler than a traditional manager. As Johanna Rothman reminds us, managers are not more valuable than other people, and they generally should not be telling people what to do—though they can suggest, advise, and mentor when the team is stuck. Telling people how to get the work done also goes against one of the basic tenets of Scrum: self-organizing teams.
When teams self-organize to deliver software and solve problems, they can be more robust, effective, and directed. Signing up for creative work encourages people to do tasks out of intrinsic motivation—because they like it, or they think the work is interesting or important—because people are committing to the work. And the team almost always has a better understanding of the implementation issues than a manager.
This is not to say that self-organizing teams don’t need managers. Esther Derby explains how managers are valuable on self-organizing teams:
Managers must create the conditions that enable teams to thrive and continue to self-organize. Managers need to work across the organization to create a work system that enables teams to deliver value to customers and the organization. And managers need to work with the team to set appropriate boundaries and constraints. Managers still act as agents for the corporation. Therefore, they still must be involved where there are legal or fiduciary responsibilities.
The traditional roles of a manager, such as setting goals, measuring performance, and doing reviews, can be tricky, especially in a team that embraces agile goals. Setting goals is useful, but the process of setting them and what you do with the feedback can be more important than how closely you attain the goal, especially as things change.
This is one reason frequent one-on-one meetings are particularly useful, as they provide a manager with opportunities to give and receive feedback in a timely manner, and thus a chance to avoid having small issues around performance, morale, or anything else to become large ones.
How does people management work on your agile team? Does it add value or overhead?