Leadership & Management70

What makes a good Agile leader

Evan Leybourn

March 10, 2019


Consider for a moment, your management style. Dr. W. Edwards Deming (Out of the Crisis, 1982), put forward two types of mistakes that you, as a manager can make when dealing with "variation" in process and outcomes. Interfering or tampering when everything is normal or within tolerance (common causes), indicative of micromanagement, and a failure to intervene when a process in out of control (special causes), indicative of absenteeism. As an Agile Manager, you need to find the middle ground between these two extremes.

Micromanagers tend to be highly reactive to minor, expected, or manageable issues without giving their teams the authority to resolve them internally. If a process is under control and within allowed tolerances, Team members should have the authority to deliver without management intervention. This assumes a robust monitoring and reporting process to identify when management intervention becomes required.

This brings us to the other extreme, an absentee manager. A manager is absentee, even if they are physically in the office, if they do not monitor or engage with their Teams to ensure delivery. Without a manager to eliminate external and, sadly sometimes, internal impediments, it becomes nearly impossible to meet any schedules or budgets.

These are the attributes of a bad manager; but what attributes would make you a successful Agile Manager? While that could be an entire book in itself, I would condense them into 10+1 core attributes:

  1. You have excellent problem solving and decision-making skills and can validate the pros and cons of a decision while dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity. Benefit: You take advantage of change while reducing management overhead for your Teams.
  2. You have excellent facilitation, communication and social skills; engaging, presenting, negotiating, resolving, and persuading. A quick wit and good sense of humor helps with this. Benefit: You build relationships with Customers and colleagues and reduce misunderstanding and conflict.
  3. You are creative and innovative and can develop or recognize new and unique responses to problems. Benefit: You improve outcomes for your Customers and reduce costs for your business. Creative managers also tend to attract talented staff.
  4. You have strength of character when dealing with stress. You maintain self-control and keep emotions out of professional interactions and decision-making. Benefit: You make appropriate decisions and build a professional environment where staff are comfortable around you.
  5. You are aware of your strengths and weaknesses and how they apply to your role as a manager. Staff will respond well to self-confidence, but not to a large ego. Benefit: You can play to your strengths and pro-actively improve your weaknesses. You can also avoid situations where your weaknesses could be exploited.
  6. You are self-motivated, without needing constant supervision from others, and take accountability for organizational outcomes. Benefit: You build trust with your superiors and colleagues.
  7. You have the appropriate professional and technical knowledge needed to engage with your staff and Customers. You do not need to know how to do their job, but enough to understand their work. Benefit: Your opinion is respected by your staff and Customers and can resolve issues quickly.
  8. You understand the value of delegation or "getting things done through other people". You trust your Team and do not fear losing control. Benefit: You will improve overall productivity and promote personal development by assigning work to the most appropriate people.
  9. You manage your staff with honesty, fairness, and integrity. You are willing to listen to and seek input from staff and are honest about performance without being offensive or personal. Benefit: Your staff feel trusted and empowered, leading to an environment where mistakes can be transparently dealt with.
  10. You have flexible planning and time management skills; visualizing the short, medium and long term requirements while adapting to changing circumstances. Benefit: You are in control of you and your Teams work leading to an overall reduction of stress and an increase in productivity.
  11. You are aware of the organizational strategy and your role within it. Organisational Benefit: Organisational goals are factored into decisions ensuring that all staff are working towards the same goals.

My final point is that an Agile manager is not very different from a traditional manager. Both have administrative control over finances, customer outcomes and staff management. The differences are in priorities, a shift to the middle ground between micromanagement and absenteeism; a hands-off and consultative, approach to your team and their duties.

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