Management in an Agile world 1

...The Elephant In The Room

In the days between now and Friday’s discussion of “Management in an Agile World” (on Clubhouse), I want to toss out some of the questions I think need to be addressed.

As we try and figure out an agile position on management, I’ve got to toss a rock into the pond (both because I like throwing rocks, and because I like splashes). There’s an elephant in the room we need to address as we talk about management, which are three of the key roles (in fact, one might say essential roles) of a manager:

  • Hiring

  • Correcting

  • Firing

At the end of the day, the responsibility for choosing who joins an organization – in what role – is one of the key power relationships in any organization. In my time as a manager/leader of teams, programs, and organizations I’ll say that the ability to choose the right people and bring them into the right role in the organization is the biggest determinant of success.

(the original gig work model: the SF longshoreman’s hiring hall - where my grandfather used to get work)

As is the responsibility for correcting. I’ve had to correct folks for everything from theft to sexual and racial harassment to just not executing the responsibilities of the role well. These are never things you want to do as a leader or manager. But they are ultimately a responsibility that has to be someone’s. You can involve or delegate to HR, but there has to be a mechanism to pull the two standard negative deviations deviant behavior towards the norm.

And finally if the above two fail, there’s the responsibility to terminate someone’s role in an organization.

Every one of these is a personal execution of power; one person’s power to select and determine another’s suitability for a role, admonish and advise them when they are not succeeding in the role, and finally, to end someone’s role in an organization. And organizations establish roles in large part, based on granting them that power.

We don’t talk about these things in Agile much; we need to. I think we tend to assume away a lot of things in our work to help people and teams and organizations perform better; agile has been successful in may ways at making that happen.

But as agile spreads out of what I call the ‘work surface’ and into the organization more broadly, we need to do two things:

  • Better define the interface between parts of organization where people are working in agile ways and parts where they aren’t;

  • Define – if we can – agile mechanisms and patterns to replace or shape the hierarchical patterns of traditional management.

I’m consciously not letting myself leap to The Isle of Conclusion with an answer here, because what I really want to do is trigger a broad discussion where we formulate and examine alternatives based on what people are doing and on what they might do.