David Oliete, flickr.com/photos/kenaprenguis

The State of Agile Management

The “Manage Agile 2013” conference in Berlin just closed its doors. A good moment to reflect where we stand in terms of Agile Organizations and Management.

I couldn’t stop asking myself: Is there something like ‘Agile Management’ at all? And if yes what exactly is it? Are the Agile principles and values slowly finding their way up from the bottom of the software development process to the highest heights of upper management? What can an Agile approach contribute to general management in non-software companies?

Let’s start with what’s an Agile organization or management. Some speaker came up with unfortunately differing definitions. For some it’s an organization without linear hierarchy and based on self-organization. Others recursively defined it as based on agile values and methods which enables them to respond to change.

Still others claimed “There’s no blueprint for an Agile Organization. If you try to define one, it won’t be Agile anymore.” Even more extreme some said “Agile Management” is nothing but a buzzword.

But all agree that the traditional “command & control” does not yield optimal results and business value when managing agile software development teams in larger organizations. And the proposals for better management were numerous — and mostly well-known: Theory X/Y, pull/push systems, collaboration as core culture, continuous improvement process, empowerment of teams, motivation through autonomy, mastery & purpose, change agents, anti-fragility and, of course, values, values, values.

While “Agile” is a clearly defined framework when it comes to software development, I think it lacks the same conciseness in terms of general management. It is absolutely true that Agile software teams cannot be successfully managed neither with “traditional” command & control methods. And it stands to reason that a software development organization needs a different organizational structure than a production lane.

Because these facts are obvious managers in the software industry thought they had to re-invent management and leadership. Maybe because most of them have not been trained in management as much as in software engineering?

Yes, we need to think about management and leadership for Agile teams. But we don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Most management tools we need are already out there. They have been developed by innovative non-software companies like Toyota. All we have to do is adapt them to our needs.

Most of all, we have to make sure we cover the basics of good leadership. In many cases this is 80% of the way. Or as Dirk Lässig put it: “We don’t need Agile Management, we need good management.”