New Ways of Thinking for Managers in an Agile World

Brian Link
Feb 18, 2020 · 4 min read
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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the mindset of a manager desperately needs to change in order for an organization to embrace agility. For too long, our managers have been rewarded for behaviors that run counter to the agile culture. But what specifically do they need to change? What stays the same?

So, the following is something I’ve been working on in my head for a while, but only just recently started writing the ideas down. It’s largely inspired by the work and momentum happening with my current client, but just yesterday I was triggered to complete a draft when my friend David Lim posted this HBR Article, “The Role of a Manager Has to Change in 5 Key Ways”.

I’m quite sure there are many more things to mention than these, so please let me know what else you think should be added.

Learn the Product Management process to get things done

  • Expect your ideas to be evaluated for alignment with the product vision and appropriately prioritized against all inputs from all stakeholders.
  • Familiarize yourself with the team’s backlog and refinement process to understand their priorities and process for only preparing the work about to be worked on and the constant shifting of ideas and priorities.

Appreciate the agile process of prioritization

  • Any deadlines should be scrutinized because we trust the team to always be working on the most important things at all times.
  • Assume all features will be delivered in stages, iteratively. When a Product Manager says a feature will be done in May, don’t be surprised if only 10 out of 37 stories were delivered. It’s still a success, we delivered value!

Learn to use the team’s information radiators

  • Familiarize yourself with the team’s Product Canvas and Working Agreement to know what they’re working on and how they’re working.

Push responsibility and accountability down to the team

  • Managers are no longer the only ones who make decisions. Delegate and ask good questions to encourage the team to solve problems, learn, and grow on their own.
  • Ask often how you can help and if they have any blockers you can help solve related to staff or dependencies on other teams.
  • Responsibility and accountability can only be pushed to the team if the team has the authority, and autonomy, to make decisions to impact the outcomes.

Unlearn old measures of productivity and focus on value

  • Innovation happens when we allow teams slack time and encourage them to explore new ways to solve problems.
  • If your team is playing with legos or out of the office for a few hours, assume positive intent and watch for the outcomes they produce each iteration instead of scrutinizing how often their hands are on keyboards.

Focus on culture and happy employees

  • Embrace a culture of experimentation and celebrate failures because it means we are learning and improving outcomes sooner. Ask questions like “what is the smallest thing we can do to learn something sooner?”

“Agile Misconceptions: Unlearn the Myths to Learn the Mindset”

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About the Author: Brian Link is the owner of Practical Agilist, LLC and author of AgileMisconceptions.com. Brian provides leadership and coaching services as an Agile Coach and Business Agility Consultant at LeanDog. Follow Brian on Twitter @blinkdaddy or LinkedIn or subscribe to his AgileColumbus.com newsletter. If you’re in Columbus, come join us at the monthly Business Agility meetup or the upcoming Business Agility Midwest Conference.

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