Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Leading vs. Managing in a Scrum Environment


Alex Brown, Scrum Inc.'s Product Owner and COO, had some thoughts on the role of management in Scrum, as he's been working on a workshop for executives for the past month or so. - jj

It’s odd. A number of people have told us recently they don’t think management has a role in a successful Scrum implementation.  The comments have been things like team members saying that the role of management in Scrum is to “keep the heck out of the way,” or teams complaints about management requests for updates and delivery forecasts. On the flip side, some business leaders have told us they feel Scrum is “hostile to management.” 

photo by Eoin Gardiner (cc)
We couldn’t disagree more, as we think management support is critical for Scrum to work at its best. In fact, we’ve actually spent a lot of time recently developing a Scrum Inc. workshop just for leadership to show them how important their role is and how to make the most of it.

From our point of view, comments like these say more about the specific organizations than Scrum. They are all classic symptoms of a breakdown in communication between an organization’s leadership and the teams actually doing the work. But it’s a common enough misperception that I thought I should address it here.

A core Scrum principle is that the team should be able to determine how to work best, free from micro-management.  The team should also push back on management requests that threaten to interrupt the Sprint, since that gives leadership a better picture of how their actions impact the actual work.

However, that doesn’t mean that business leadership doesn’t have a vital role to play; it does, and it is far more active than just “staying out of the way.”  Teams that exclude management entirely miss an enormous opportunity for productivity growth.  Our research shows this quite clearly: effective collaboration with leadership accelerates velocity more than twice as rapidly as “Guerilla Scrum” run in isolation from corporate management.

More importantly, and I can’t stress this enough, conflict with or lack of support from management is the biggest and most often cited challenge to implementing Scrum successfully.

The key difference is Agile companies look to their executives for leadership rather than management.  This is a real change in mindset, both by Team members and also in how managers view themselves and their role. A traditional management team spends much of its time focused on telling teams what to do. An Agile leadership team is a positive force that works with teams in three important ways:

  1. They set meaningful and challenging, but achievable, goals to help focus the teams’ effort on activities that create the most business value.
  2.  They work with teams to identify and eliminate impediments that are beyond the team’s ability to remove directly.
  3. They establish and maintain a system of incentives that reward teams not individuals. If everyone focuses on teamwork rather than personal benefit, more work gets done faster and better…and that needs to be encouraged.  

The transition from traditional manager to Agile leader can be difficult…often the Scrum terminology is new and unfamiliar, many of the traditional tools and activities no longer apply, and managers wonder how they should be spending their time if they aren’t busy telling people what to do.  Not every manager can make the transition, and without a clear sense of their new role even the best-intentioned leaders will subconsciously revert to old habits and may become an impediment to increasing team velocity.

So how can Scrum teams help their managers become better Agile leaders? 

First, keep leadership “in the loop” both by educating them on Scrum terms and what they mean, and providing transparency into the team’s velocity, backlog points, impediments and other key metrics.  Company leadership needs visibility into team progress…after all, they have to communicate the company’s status to internal and external stakeholders.  A clear sense of where the team stands also allows leaders to have productive discussions about how best to support the team. 

In exchange for that visibility, Agile leaders MUST make three commitments to the team: 1) to use their visibility to solve problems rather than assign blame; 2) to work quickly to remove impediments identified by the team; and 3) to minimize any additional work needed to share data…all metrics should be pulled and calculated from existing tools with no manual team work to convert them back into “traditional” reports.

Second, help your managers understand the role you want them to play rather than expecting them to figure it out on their own.  Even a quick candid conversation about how they can help the team will go a long way.  If you need more help, give us a call. The new workshop I mentioned earlier is designed specifically to help executives learn how to lead an Agile company. It focuses on getting leaders comfortable with shaping corporate vision, ensuring visibility, and supporting motivation in a Scrum environment.  It also explains what leaders should and should not expect from their high-performing Scrum teams, and how to establish a more collaborative working dynamic.

So if it feels like your management “just doesn’t get it” and is perpetually in conflict with the team, take a moment to step back and think about how you can help your management team to become better Agile leaders.  
Alex Brown
COO, Scrum Inc.

3 comments:

DoriAnnsworld said...

Good article. We too have struggled with the managers role and as you have so aptly articulated not every manager can transition to the leader role that is now expected of them.
http://doriannsworld.wordpress.com/

DoriAnnsworld said...

Good post. We too have struggled with the transition of our managers to being leaders. You have articulated this challenge very well and I agree with the responsibility of the teams. Thank you for such a thoughtful post. http://doriannsworld.wordpress.com/

Bruno yvan Morel said...

Excellent article (as usual :)), I would just maybe make the 3rd point ("...They establish and maintain a system of incentives that reward teams not individuals. If everyone focuses on teamwork rather than personal benefit, more work gets done faster and better…and that needs to be encouraged...") a bit more gray than black and white ("not individuals" ?).

I do think and do experience that you have to do both with a difference balance / importance emphasis.

Of course you make sure that everyone understand that the measure of success will be the team's success, and especially explicit than this is about emulation, not competition.
But you have also (and more and more with the GenY and the Net-native) make sure that individual positive changes / efforts see some amount of reward (the simplest one being of course to just tell the rest of the team) and are especially NOT ignored.

I may be picky, but as you said, it is where leadership make a difference (I do accept the term management if it refers to it's original etymology : 'guide with a hand to allow progressive learning').