Thursday July 29th, 2021

What Can Managers Do to Help Employees Work More Agile?

You’ve been ordered to work Agile? You even want it yourself? However, you still have a few questions? You’re not alone. For example, I was recently asked:

What can managers do to help employees work more Agile?”

The first thing needed is that management realises with conviction

that managers don’t manage people. They manage a system. A system of which they are a part themselves. That is:
It’s not the employees who work more agile. EVERYONE is working more agile: Employees AND managers. Because we are all in this together! 
And because leaders are particularly influential in shaping the culture with the way they act, leaders in particular should lead by example. Meaning: Start with working Agile first.
And this not only in speaking. But above all also: in DOING.

So being helpful would be

to get into Agile routines as quickly as possible (with everything that goes with it, so e.g. transparency…) and to conduct retrospectives, for example. Not as a one-time event, but consistently over and over again!

In addition, consider

to establish a company backlog. Or at least compiling a comprehensible, well-founded, reliable, descriptive project list. With ALL projects, which are currently being worked on in the company, what is expected from these projects and what is the investment risk (the real one and not the estimated or under- or overestimated one).
Just as an idea. In my experience, that is a good start. ( However, lacking of this information or having no backlog is very quickly noticed when holding retrospectives anyway)

A fundamental task of all Agile leaders at all levels (!)

is exclusively to set goals and frameworks in such a way that the results of the operationally working teams can be produced as quickly and as value-adding as possible. Meaning: This needs to be done VERY customer-centric and in a profitable manner.
This does NOT include blaming teams for their perceived shortcomings or putting pressure on them. It also does NOT include know-it-all attitude or status buzz. Because that is VERY HARMFUL for ALL business goals. 

The responsibility of agile management is

to explain what exactly is to be done (projects/tasks) and, most importantly, why and with what objectives and expectations.
Also, part of this is to say exactly WHAT is HOW IMPORTANT, so that the operational teams know to tackle exactly what in which order. (First things first.)

Agile leaders trust

the expertise of their teams – for which they pay a VERY large amount of money, not incidentally – and thus “only” set the organizational, structural framework. Which is a really challenging job.
Thus, the employees in the teams can work as freely and undisturbed as possible in their expert roles to produce the results that customers, owners and management expect.
Without switching costs. Without costs of delay. Without stress or other mental distress.

Disruptions and other impediments for teams

that they can’t clear on their own MUST be removed by leaders. What might that be? Well, such as canceling meetings or hosting them in a way that makes them effective.
Once again, meetings that are called or even extended for habit or status reasons DESTROY ADDING VALUE and put company success at risk. And that’s why we simply don’t do it!

Managing and leading in an Agile way is totally different

to what we commonly think of as classical management. On the other hand, many so-called classical managers I deal with are also often not classical managers at all.
On the contrary, they are happy that in an Agile transition they can become an “Agile” or “Servant” leader and – FINALLY! – be able to do what they have always wanted to do: Contribute to the company’s success.

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