Manager 2.0 – Managing an Agile Team and Enterprise

If we use the SCO Model of Management to classify a variety of tasks are performed by managers in IT and other organizations, we can typically divide these tasks in three categories : Strategic, Coordinative and Operational. Strategic actions focus on long term. It is designed to achieve a particular goal through careful evaluation of current situation, future multiple scenarios and alternative choices for the same. Strategic activities and tasks are about defining a strategy [current and future scenario and how best to get there]. Strategic activities and tasks also rest on continually monitoring and adapting. The strategists typically monitor the market situation and business metrics, continusouly aligning their organizations as per market environment. They answer questions like what the organization should focus on, how they should do what they do and how to become more effective and gain competitive advantage. Coordinative tasks are mostly targeted at one specific segment of enterprise and its relation with other segments of an enterprise [and not with those segments of enterprise they are not related to]. Hence, they are based on actions used by a small unit to implement a specific objective. Hence, almost all coordinative tasks are about coordination. The focus is on optimal utilization, coordination and good processes. Operations or processes are a set of well defined, finite tasks. While there can be defined, finite tasks to do strategic and coordinative tasks as well – the main difference between strategic/ coordinative and operational tasks is repeatability. Most operational tasks are repeatable. It is also easy to come up with quantifiable measures to evaluate the success of operation, after a period of time.

Let’s take an example. “User Experience” is an important aspect of any business. As a strategist, the focus is on what are the challenges in designing good user experience, coming up with mechanisms to define who the target audience is, what is the competition and what is an acceptable level of user experience. A coordinative task in the meanwhile could be to have core product line managers focus on standards, coordinating design and HTML activities, analyzing with business analysts, process flows, coming up with design glossary etc. Operational tasks are specific activities like doing actual designs, making HTML pages, testing HTML pages etc. In most organizations, this is how work gets done. Strategy is defined by senior most managers and most managers work in the coordinative space with employees working in operational space. Agile changes this mindset slightly.

The default assumption  by providing strategic power at the top is that flow of control, information, direction is from top to bottom and some people are more equipped to handle some tasks [based on experience, stake in company etc.]. However, an effective strategy would incorporate flow from bottom to top as well. This is because this allows people to get feedback right from the people who are in touch with the market / are doing something themselves. A host of measures have been implemented by various companies for this. Formal mechanisms like feedback surveys are one way of doing this. However, making it formal, periodic makes it a process rather than actually yield results. Strategists need to know what are they missing [most often they will miss communicating with coordinators and operators clearly enough]. Also, the challenge is to understand where the operators knowledge can be better utilized and in current times, this can be anywhere. Hence, more than just jargons of flat organization, everyone is equal – it should be practiced. Management should explain business objectives, directions – get questioned by coordinators and operators on why this business direction and why not something else. After all doubts are clarified, operators will go about their job with more clarity, enthusiasm and direction. Hence, individual units to align them with goals and objectives of organization/ project “as they want to be”. One way of doing this is rather than focusing much on “how to do something”, a broad framework to be provided to the team and they figure out how to do this. In short, it changes the hierarchy.

Let’s look at some of the tasks that managers typically perform :

  1. Task Breakdown
  2. Task Assignment
  3. Task Tracking
  4. Client Communication
  5. Providing feedback to people
  6. Recommending Appraisals
  7. Interviews
  8. Team Building
  9. Trainings
  10. Strategy Planning
  11. Project Reports
  12. Attrition Control
  13. Value Creation
  14. Project Cost Tracking

There can be many more such tasks. Let’s evaluate if managers should continue doing these tasks in the Agile world as well or not. [1], [2] and [3] would not fit in ideally. [4] – [14] would undergo a significant change. For instance, as part of recommending appraisals, the managers would be involved only as one part. A 360-degree feedback along with linked appraisal or same appraisal for whole team based on collective effort are some approaches which can be used. These approaches are not unique to Agile but work well to keep the team at the heart. Similarly, team building happens by creating a spirit in each member to see best interest of the team as well as project and orient themselves towards it without being asked to do. Similarly, value creation is through building people and building systems that make the team hyper productive.  This is definitely tough to do.

The role of Manager 2.0 is to ensure that everyone through out the value chain is involved in all the aspects – strategy, coordinative and operational. This is easier said than done and requires creation of a democratic work space and choice driven coordination up and down the value chain. Some of the day to day transactional tasks like task reporting, task division etc. are no longer done by the managers [you don’t want an expensive clerk]. Some others like providing feedback, performance appraisals, salary appraisals, recruiting, firing are now done slightly differently. In addition, the managers take on more tasks. Basically, they stop being a nanny and move towards servant leadership. Let us revisit the SCO model and see how strategic, coordinative and operational activities are carried out by the The Team, Scrum Master and Product Owner.

The Team :

  • Strategic : The team makes decisions regarding which practices it would use, how much work it can commit to during  a sprint. It also identifies obstacles and opportunities for growth that would help technical architecture of the practice.
  • Coordinative : The team is self organizing. They use variety of tools like daily stand up, sprint retrospectives and sprint backlog for internal coordination and others like sprint planning, product backlog and sprint review with the marketing leadership/ product owner.
  • Operational : This is left for the team to identify for themselves. A number of XP Practices like refactoring, test driven development, shared code etc. However, the choice is left for the team.

Scrum Master or Process Coach:

  • Strategic : Scrum Master is in charge of the Scrum Process/ Agile Framework. She guides, checks and consults on the teams use of Agile and Scrum, She helps the team identify obstacles and remove them. In short, she is in charge of the productivity of the team.
  • Coordinative : Scrum Master or Process Coach can sometimes work as a coordinative mechanism with other departments. Intra-team coordination is generally left to the team unless two team members specifically ask Scrum Master or Process Coach to intervene. In some situations, some tasks in this domain require expertise or responsibility that goes beyond the spirit of Scrum Master. These can be things like interviewing new people for the job, giving individual performance feedback, recommending salary appraisals, being responsible for attrition and individual growth etc. Typically, organizations employ a Manager. A Manager can sometimes work as Scrum Master + other tasks or do only “the tasks” while Scrum Master goes about monitoring the Scrum Process.
  • Operational : This is not defined. Scrum Master or Process Coach can use tools at their disposal like observance, notes etc. to do their work. As most of their work is thought process, speaking and engagement – defining exact tools is slightly wishful.

Product Owner:

  • Strategic : The success of the product is product owners responsibility. She is responsible for gathering customer requirements, prioritizing them, setting the release schedule, getting the right product built. In short, the strategic success plan has to come from the product owner. She can sometimes as a part of this, discuss with the team, the skills and requirements for this success.
  • Coordinative : The product owner engages with the team at sprint planning, sprint review and by drafting a project backlog. She is also available through out the sprint for any questions and discussions. The team works at any given time as per the priority defined by the product owner.
  • Operational : The operational tasks of Product Owner involve gathering requirements, gathering market feedback, prioritizing requirements, communication and tracking product success.

Manager 2.0 :

  • Strategic : Focuses on Value Creation. We find focus on creating processes as per Lean principles, a great starting point. Hence, a Manager 2.0 would focus on:
    • Eliminating waste
    • Building quality in processes and systems – making systems mistake proof
    • Creating a culture of respect for all people
    • Focus on the value for the end customer
    • Optimizing the whole
      • We will expand on this in the posts on Lean Engineering Principles.
  • Coordinative : A Manager can take on the responsibility for arranging resources, people, interviewing, feedback, appraisals – all the tasks which if done by Process Coach/ Scrum Master would actually hamper their ability to inspire trust. In a way, a manager’s job becomes more difficult than a Process Coach/ Scrum Master. They have to not only do some tasks which require certain authority and reporting, but also keep the environment trust worthy and open.
  • Operational : This does not differ much from operational tasks that they do anyways. However, significant percentage of their tasks are thinking and communication based. Hence, appropriate choice of tools is more important.

Overall, Manager 2.0 would be responsible for creation of a value based people driven culture. They also would be responsible for scaling Agile and helping the team identify appropriate practices. There main role is best summed up this way “They create a self organizing team and empower it so much, that they themselves are no longer needed. Hence, its more of a self burning role.


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