Agile / Event

Helping Managers: A Session Report from ACCN2012

Last weekend I attended Agile Coach Camp Norway 2012. The event was just great! I came back with a lot of useful stuff. In this post I’ll recap the open space session I proposed and hosted with Mads Troels Hansen: Helping managers.

Title imageNotes 1/3

I’ve seen my share of Agile transitions. The critical factor in getting all the benefits off one is for me that the whole organization transitions to a more agile way of working. Managers can do a big part in that. My proposed problem for the session was how could we as agile coaches help the managers to transition to the kind of management role demanded in an agile organisation.

As we talked we made several observations about things worth taking into account when trying to help managers get accustomed to the agile way of thinking. I’ve listed them in their own categories below. The categorization is my own and made after the session.

Desired Outcomes

The first category I identified is the outcomes we want to have for the managers and the whole organization.

  • Build mutual trust between management and developers
  • Have common language for managers, business and developers alike
  • Safety for middle managers to try different approaches
  • Learning is encouraged for managers
  • Company culture embraces constant change
  • Company culture supports experimentation
  • Managers are aware of their authority (are present, listen)
  • Peer support and peer coaching between managers

Management Anti-Patterns

At the session I felt that we mostly identified these. After examining the notes we made I noticed that there was actually just a few of them:

  • Punishment culture
  • Competition between managers
  • Project thinking
Notes 2/3Notes 3/3

Techniques to help

This was my idea of the most valuable income of the session: Concrete techniques we could try to with managers:

  • Figure out the managers’ top fears (listen, be present)
  • Have an internal management change agent (who knows agile)
    • Suggest hiring that person
  • Visualize the benefits of agile (systems thinking)
    • visibility, adaptability etc.
  • Offer systems thinking tools to support management decision-making
  • Department retrospectives
  • Company retrospectives
  • Support managers’ learning of coaching skills
  • “Walking the talk” – showing a good example

Try this

These were more general than the techniques and not that straight-forward to implement, so I separated them to their own category:

  • Target top management, not middle management
    • middle management does not have say on big changes
  • Get rid of middle management (as much as you can)
  • Influence top management to change the management structure (=> flatter)

Got any more techniques or things to try? Please add your input to the comments.

Photos of the notes blankets by Olaf Lewitz.


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