An Organization is described by processes and structures, those define the way people interact. But individual values often tend to sabotage the organization evolution. This is often observed during Agile Transformation processes, specially from a middle management layer, insecure about their skills to guide an Agile team to deliver excellence to the end user.
In a hierarchical models we have the classical pyramid representation of the structure, where we have on the top managers, and some of us believe they must have the smartest decisions and be in control. Those are the command and control organizations.
They also believe they have the best top vision of the business and they provide policies, decisions, budget, deadlines and the necessary information to feed the levels below, maintaining them busy.
Normally they ask to the bottom of the pyramid to organize reports, data and standards in the way they can consume all this information and have the feeling of be in control.
As bigger the organization, as stronger the standardization and bureaucracy, what is by initial intention a contradiction! What was “invented” with the intention to provide quick reliable pictures, became only an official procedure answering to the information request that someone, one day in the past, with other context and goals, defined as relevant information to be measured and updated frequently in one report.
The organization will be the biggest loser because the insight of real problems and the early spot of new opportunities, very hardly will arrive to the decision makers. I think I could say that this is one of the main reasons why big organizations are so slow in reaction and innovation.
Big organizations are also very efficient to make grow the middle management layers. We can justify it for many reasons, a common one is the hard demand for action from the top, where normally resources are not growing so fast, so they must delegate.
What changed with Agile introduction?
In Agile structures, workers are replaced by teams and teams have specific missions, they are driven by their specific mission. But they have also particular properties:
- Cross-functional teams – they are self-sufficient in skills and resources to deliver value for what is their mission;
- Co-located – they seat together to maximize communication and collaboration);
- Team members are 100% dedicated to their mission – no other distraction to the target defined by the mission;
- The team is, stable – takes a lot of time to build a team, build trust, understand skills and potential;
- The team is autonomous and owns processes and quality – is not accepted exterior interference to accomplish the mission and the responsibility towards the mission is collective.
What demands an Agile Team to their Executives?
The demand from an Agile team to the top of the pyramid is:
- Give me the vision – Agile teams need to align permanently their mission with the top vision;
- Give me priorities – the demand in requirements is always higher than the team capacity to deliver them, so it’s helpful to be aligned with top priorities;
- Give me Information and Context;
- Give me Empowerment and Trust.
Fulfilled those conditions, the Team commits to deliver.
But the demand from an Agile Team to the middle management becomes higher than never before in the specific subject of the mission and product.
What demands an Agile Team to their Middle Managers?
The team needs from middle management layers:
- Proximity, guidance and feedback about the daily work to solve backlog stories;
- Unblock impediments to accomplish the mission;
- Help to establish communication among the organization: with other teams, stakeholders, customers, partners;
- Support in multiple areas: tools, work environment, training, protection from outside team conditions in order to make them focus in really what is important.
The team also must be connected with customers and users, should deliver towards all platforms where the product is present. Due to this fact feedback loop between deliverable acceptance and team must be shorter as possible, as quality validation must be permanent, and team has capacity to deliver as the market requests or if we should reduce team scope must also be permanently evaluated.
All those new requirements to a middle manager, demanded during an Agile Transformation process, challenges their know how in the specific area where they are in charge and their operational management skills to support the team to deliver.
They must be their Agile Team COO. This should be seen as huge opportunity to evolve! But often, unfortunately is not and turns into a blocker to the Agile Transformation.
Why often we have a middle management layer blocking Agile Transformation?
We should remember that in hierarchical organizations those managers were spending the major part of the time in strategic discussions, networking in between or with top managers, making budget and resource planning tasks. During an Agile Transformation process, middle managers realize that they need to spend more time with the level below of the pyramid than before. They have their specific know how more exposed to the Agile team who is implementing the mission, so they will be more frequently and informally evaluated by their direct contribution to the mission or to the enhancement of the product value.
The fact that the team is reduced in number and scope has impact in their ego in a way that can’t be logically explained in arguments in this post.
Agile exposes opportunities to whom is not afraid to learn, to try, to fail, to share and is a team player with an open, honest, trustful, unpolitical attitude towards the team and essentially commits to deliver in time and quality, with the team the best version of the product.