Coaching Senior Management to Be Agile | TechWell

Coaching Senior Management to Be Agile

Team member coaching her senior manager in agile practices

Embracing an agile mindset isn’t always easy, and it can be especially difficult for people who spent most of their careers working in more traditional development methodologies, like senior managers.

For a long time, successful software professionals were taught to make detailed plans and estimates up front for entire applications. More often than not, companies would promote the people who were good at that to management roles. However, as more teams start to embrace agile and DevOps, those very senior managers are now being told to develop software in a different way.

It takes time to change senior management’s perspective on becoming agile, but by starting to speak their language, you can help expedite that process.

Use the DISC model to adapt your communication style

Agile consultant Jan Jaap Cannegieter recommends using the DISC model as a way to interpret your manager’s communication style and adapt your own style to match theirs. This assessment model is founded on a theory that people tend to develop a concept about their own personality based on one of four factors: Dominance, Inducement, Steadiness, or Compliance.

Most software engineers like to think critically. They’re conscientious about the calculated decisions they’re making, and they like to explain what they’re doing. On the contrary, most senior managers care more about outcome than process.

In order to communicate more effectively with senior managers, engineers should consider starting with a conclusion or expected outcome rather than explaining everything to the manager.

Provide managers feedback in private

While continuous improvement is always important, you have to be careful where, when, and how you communicate feedback with managers.

Cannegieter explains that senior managers can be prideful, so you should not provide feedback to managers in front of others, especially people they manage. Instead, find a private office to have the conversation face to face.

Also, rather than telling managers they did something wrong, you could try explaining the consequences of certain actions to the managers and asking them if repeating certain actions are worth the known consequences. 

Demonstrate that teams can self-organize

One of the key elements of becoming agile is empowering teams to self-organize. When teams feel empowered, they’re more likely to deliver high-quality work on time and under budget—both things senior managers love.

In traditional development methodologies, a manager might decide what needs to be done, then tell the team who is responsible for which part of the project and when the project is due. By allowing the team to plan, estimate, and organize themselves, managers are trusting that the team will better meet commitments.

It’s important for teams to deliver on their commitments to show senior management that they can work together to deliver high-quality products without a manager telling them how to do it.

In agile, a manager’s role shifts from command-and-control to empower-and-serve. Once teams and senior managers start to speak the same language and teams show continued success with their self-organization, managers will start to trust their teams more, give them more flexibility to experiment, and, ultimately, deliver higher-quality products.

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