Managing in Agile Webinar: Follow-up Q&A

In our last webinar “Managing in Agile: Shifting to an Agile Manager Mindset,” we were able to dive into the fundamental “mindshifts” — that is, shifts in mindset — that everyone in an Agile organizations but especially leaders and managers need to undergo at the individual level. At SolutionsIQ we have a tendency to set official roles to the side and focus on the responsibilities and actions of the individuals in each individual role. In other words, we focus on what it means to lead and what it means to manage. By shifting our perspective away from “leader” and “manager” to “leadership” and “management,” we create a tacit invitation to anyone anywhere in the organization to lead and manage with an Agile compass. For more help with this concept, check out our resource “Agile Mindshifts for Leadership and Management.”

As you can imagine, our discussion raised many deep, probing questions — so many questions, in fact, that we couldn’t answer them all. In this post we will endeavor to address two of them:

  1. Agile mindshifts – where do we start?
  2. Where does the manager fit in Scrum?

1. Agile Mindshifts – Where Do We Start?

Answer provided by Tiffany Willis

To recap the Agile mindshifts for leading and managing in an agile organization:

  1. Learn over Know
  2. Respond over Perfect
  3. Invite over Demand
  4. Enable over Control
  5. Share over Protect
  6. Listen over Speak
  7. Clarify over Correct

When introducing these to management in workshops or presentations, I am often asked, “Doesn’t this need to start with senior leadership?”

Before I answer, I ask a few questions of my own: “What do your people and your teams need from you? Do they look to you for guidance or to set goals for them? What is their expectation of you and your role?” Chances are great that, if you’re in management, people around you expect you to be a leader.

I am not trying to trivialize the question, but it brings us back to the question of “What is the difference between managing and leading?” Many leaders I work with actually view themselves more as responsible for managing the process or practices in an organization (for example, reporting, status updates) than as leading people or teams. Yet people look to them for leadership. As we said in our “Managing in Agile” webinar, managing is about maintaining the direction of existing initiatives or policies and goals, while leading is about future initiatives and goals, which often require a change of direction and, with it, energizing people around that change. To do this, leaders need to be clear and articulate a vision of the organization that includes not only the business results, the how, and what actions need to be taken to get there. Leaders also need to model the behavior they expect in those around them, and that often requires leaders to transform as an individual so they can model the changes they expect in those around them. Whether you are considered manager or a senior leader, in an Agile organization your focus shifts from wielding control to giving control through empowerment and alignment.

We have introduced these Agile mindshifts to clarify how leadership interacts with everyone around them, including others who are leading and managing throughout the organization. These mindshifts need to be adopted and practiced at all levels of the organization. Wherever you are in the org chart, whatever your title may be, it is possible for you to start with your area of concern, your teams and organization and expand from there. When you begin to lead from the mindshifts, you will begin to notice more engaged, participative employees, which positively impacts the responsiveness and delivery of your teams. A ripple effect is soon underway where others exhibit the mindshifts that you model. Ultimately, the organization coalesces around ways of interacting that have at its core the mindshifts that empower knowledge workers to continue to solve complex problems in ever changing environments. This means that the mindshifts may start among top leadership (“top-down”), or they start taking place with managers at a lower level of the organization (“bottom-up”). In either case, successful change is possible by establishing a change strategy to ensure that everyone in leadership and management is operating with these mindshifts over time.

The Agile mindshifts we propose give an effective, positive approach to interactions with everyone around you that is valuable in uncovering answers, clarifying contexts, defining success and so much more. As with Agile, this is a means to the end, not the end itself. “What does the end look like?” you may ask. For that, I leave you with a quote by Simon Sinek:

“Leadership sets the tone and the conditions. If you get the conditions right, the organization thrives.”

2. Where Does the Manager Fit in Scrum?

Answer provided by George Schlitz

Scrum has three roles: Product Owner, ScrumMaster and team member. Combined these roles bear all the responsibility for delivering a product. Effectively this relieves the manager from having to spend their time managing people’s tasks or determining how to solve the problem the team has been charged with. Managers now have time to focus and develop in areas that make them most valuable to their employees and their organization. Knowledge workers look to managers to create the right environment for them to succeed in. Intent-based leadership, according to L. David Marquet, calls on leaders (which includes managers) to create competence and provide clarity.

  • Creating competence means managers work to ensure that their team members have all of the skills and knowledge necessary to complete the work.
  • Providing clarity means managers work to invite people into a shared vision, a clear purpose or definition of success.

This combination allows the manager to “give control” or delegate decisions to teams and individuals with the deepest knowledge of the problem and, often, its solution. This gets to the heart of the manager’s role in Scrum: a manager is responsible for creating an environment where teams can thrive in responding to change. Agility means being able to adapt and respond quickly to a rapidly changing environment, and a manager’s role is to enable teams to be(come) Agile.

Another key responsibility for a manager in Scrum is to evaluate existing structures, policies and practices in the organization and determine which make sense in an Agile organization and which may need to be evolved. For example, many managers we have spent a decent amount of time forecasting how long it would take teams to complete a new request or writing status reports. Organizations needing data to support funding or targeted release dates isn’t incongruent with Agile, but the practice for fulfilling that need can feel “anti-Agile”. Managers can benefit the organization and team by innovating and creating new practices to support agility and teams while educating senior leaders in Agile mindshifts by way of example.


Missed the Webinar?

The topic of managing and leading in an Agile environment is so important today. This reason is partly responsible for the tremendous interest in our webinar “Managing in Agile: Shifting to an Agile Manager Mindset” with Managing Director of Solutions Development George Schlitz and Senior Agile Consultant Tiffany Willis. If you weren’t able to catch it live, you’re in luck: we’ve recorded all the goodness and added it to our Resource Library, which is chock full of the latest and greatest Agile content around.

Watch it Now