A Manager’s Role in Agile, Part II

In part one of A Manager’s Role in Agile, we discussed the paradigm shift supervisors must go through to become effective members of an agile organization. To do this we assessed the new ways managers can serve teams once they have become self-organizing entities and no longer require day-to-day oversight.

While these are all useful tips, we did not explain how to get managers to adopt these new mindsets. Usually agile transformations are catalyzed by an executive-level decision, but what if a team wants to try and generate these changes without the benefit of an organizational push? Is there a way to make an agile transition appealing to managers who see it as a risk when they report to higher ups?

agile manager

A Bottom-Up Approach

The trick to implementation is making sure managers feel reassured and relevant as changes are tested, but naturally there may be some resistance. Managers will have to overcome fears that the team won’t get things done, a desire to control, and jargon that makes Scrum sound exclusive. Your goal is to showcase the value agile will add to your company, and use that to turn your manager into an ally.

Here are four ways teams can begin ignite a bottom-up transformation: 

  • Present agile benefits with examples: Agile allows teams to be more successful by producing, testing and evaluating the product frequently. To illustrate this, find relevant examples. Often it’s best to provide case studies from similar companies in your industry and describe the tactics that are most helpful to your individual team. 
  • Ask for a trial period: Understandably, your manager may be skeptical. That’s why it may be helpful to request a three-iteration trial run. That’s enough time to work out many of the kinks experienced in the first few weeks, without committing to a long term change. It’s also beneficial to remind them the change is new to everyone and reinforce that this is a learning process for the whole team.
  • Let them actively participate: No one wants to to be bulldozed into change. Help your managers experience agile and involve them in planning meetings. There is one caveat though. Ask if they would remain silent during the discussion. This prevents teams from relying on one person to lead the conversation and can control a manager’s urge to dominate discussion. You should also allow your supervisor to see the review process in action and invite them to each sprint retrospective. This demonstrates how the team has begun to work together without their facilitation and presents an opportunity for your leadership to discuss their feelings and worries about the process as it unfolds.
  • Provide them with new, compelling measures of success: Obviously Scrum teams will utilize burndown charts to track velocity, but teams can also measure the number of hours they miss sprint deadlines by. Underestimation can reveal potential for a team to take on more, while overestimation may highlight why products have been behind in the past. This type of information will prove useful to a manager who has had to explain shortcomings in the past.


The Key is Trust

Regardless of the tactics you use to promote an agile transformation within your department, managers will only adapt if self-organizing teams are proven to be reliable, effective entities that show visible progress.

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