Middle Management

Even in the agile universe people are acutely aware of management.  A scrum team diagram doesn’t show one, but the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) will.  How does management fit in? Is our management Agile?  Books like Organizational Behavior have quite a bit to say about management and even discuss motivational theory.   A better book for many of the ways managers can enable teams and keep the environment agile is Management 3.0

For a new team or manager involved with scrum, throwing a book at them is not a place I suggest starting.  If I only have time for the quick intro, I usually break Scrum down into People, Events, and Terms.  A 50 minute conversation through a handy little chart (I’ll post it if interested) that includes  a recursive acronym SME in the people section.  These are people that surround the teams; Subject Matter Experts (I consider the customer an expert on themselves), Management, and finally Environment.  The tank (environment) in which the team swims often plays a part in the teams development and behavior, thus like many things, I embody it as a character/actor.   I also like spending a few moments talking to management and the role that can be directly supportive or disruptive.

Alignment between a ScrumMaster and Management can be very powerful.  Management affects the organizational environment tremendously.  There is an Organizational Cultural Inventory (OCI) that can be taken.  It divides the reward behavior of the culture into different categories.  Few actually promote the individual and team behavior we strive so hard to promote in agile.  I have seen this test taken with an aha realization, and at times simply to help to supply words to what was happening.  An awareness of any organization is a great step towards changing it for something better.  Management often has budget. Giving some budget allocation to a team scrum master and letting the team decide how to spend it sends a strong message for being empowered. I have also seen scrum masters help management by representing a project budget burndown.

The behaviors embodied among management that I have ever cherished…

A sense of calm.  No matter the size of the problem, it is typically one’s grace in overcoming it that we remember.  Behavior is emulated from leadership.  We are creating individuals and teams who need a strong suite in problem solving and communication.  Insecurity and defensiveness do not help in an environment that requires exploration, risk, improvement, collaboration and achievement.  Calm also denotes a willingness to grow.  A patience for individuals, teams, and even deliverables to build upon themselves into better versions.

Listen. Long before Agile, there was lean, and Toyota Production systems.  “Genchi Genbutsu” was a phrase for Go and see it.  Managers that would occasionally attend stand-ups, and always reviews let the teams know that their work was important.  If they also waited and asked “how can I help”, this is often lauded by teams in retrospectives.  A manager seeing how the team worked together, what was being worked on, also had easier times connecting with the program, and the individuals.  Characterization of the organization and capabilities of the teams.  Perception is a part of this, especially to detect when someone or even an entire team is down and feeling unsupported at the moment.  This leads into my next behavior, the ability to…

Inspire. Some have a gift for this in an individual basis, others can inspire on scale to an entire room.  The ones that stuck with me have always been personal revelations that took some strength to persevere, or overcome.  Even more strength to voice to others. Celebrate the small wins and point us just ahead to another better spot over some obstruction.  Often this inspiration changed the way we thought the fabric of the universe was set or a small angle to see something just a bit more.  Inspiration is a different kind of urgency.  It draws and compels us.  Far different from Command and Control, it empowers others who will run far faster if we simply enable them.

Change. Not just endorse it, and support it for others, but change themselves. Represent being an agent of change.  Adapt, learn and grow as an example to others.  This change also incorporates impact – not from fear or as an excuse to stave action indefinitely. Action which is guided by when, where, and how this effort is effective.   An agile mind is able to context switch, perspective switch, level switch, and scale.  Not always easy to ask, and still be able to communicate, communicate, communicate.

-Thanks for ‘listening’


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