Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Advice for Agile Coaches on "Dealing With" Middle Management

Over the past few months I have been fortunate to attend a number of Agile Conferences. A theme I observed, particularly in open spaces and social conversations, related to the role of middle management in an Agile Transformation. Questions like: what to do about Middle Management, how to deal with the "frozen middle" and what is the role of an Agile Manager kept coming up.  To be honest the answers given often surprised me. The most common view I heard advocated is "get rid of them".

Strangely, I have also found I tend to be the only middle manager in the vicinity, or least the only one willing to own up to being a middle manager, when the topic comes up. Hence, I  have been known to inject a different perspective into the conversation. What if middle management weren't a blocker to change, but actually the key to unlocking change? I have a theory that middle management lead change is often the most successful. As my boss always says, its the middle managers who actually make things happen across the company.

When working with development teams, the buy in of middle management is critical. Middle Management can be either a force for good or kryptonite to an agile transformation effort. If teams perceive that management does not support agile, how will they ever feel safe to experiment and risk failure? I have seen agile adoption attempted in organisations where management still holds a traditional mindset. It can be devastating for teams that have invested in agile values like transparency, to be reprimanded by management for exposing the truth.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Book Clubs at Work - Are You Serious?

As mentioned in a prior post, the idea for the EDW Agile Release Train came from reading +Dean Leffingwell's Scaling Software Agility. A couple of months after reading the book, there was a restructure and I found myself leading the technology team that I has previously been a customer of.  I was eager to pitch the idea of forming an Agile Release Train to my new team, so I arranged a series of workshops with the key leaders across the group.

From these workshops I hoped to achieve shared understanding and agreement on the shape of our future organisation. We kicked off with +Mark Richards sharing what he had learnt about Agile Release Trains from Dean's Lean Agile Enterprise Leadership Workshop. We also provided everyone with the details of Dean's more recent book, Agile Software Requirements. Over the remaining workshops we debated various organisational models, operating principles and approaches to getting started until we landed on a majority consensus on the way forward. With our vision agreed it was all hands on deck to get ready for our first release planning (PSI) workshop tentatively scheduled to happen in about 6 weeks.

As the day of our first release planning event grew closer, I noticed that there were some blank faces among my extended leadership team when I referred to various aspects of what we needed to do. My heart sank as I asked the team, "Who has read the book?". A couple of hands were raised. "Who has finished the book?". Only one hand (and yes he still works with me!). "Who doesn't own the book?". At least four or five hands were sheepishly raised. "OK" I said "Change of plan. We are all going to buy the book. If you cannot afford the book, let me know and I will arrange a book for you. Then we are going to read the book together. We are going to form a book club!" As Deming said, "without theory there is no learning".