Manager’s Guide to Agile Development

Get out of the way.

The End.


Most middle managers at large enterprises are conditioned to command and control. They are expected to know and understand all the major details of every project they own. They have to be consulted on every “major” decision. (Of course, the definition of what constitutes a “major” decision is often sadly lacking.)

This immediately creates a bottleneck. The manager has to be consulted in advance yet he is likely to be difficult to engage. Hallway conversations are almost impossible as the manager is always on the run. Finding time on his calendar is even more difficult as he is likely double booked much of the time.

When the team finally gets face time with the manager, it could get worse. If the decision is deemed to be too big or too complex, it will have to get escalated to a higher level manager or sent to a committee. Can you spell g-r-i-d-l-o-c-k?

Getting out of the way is hard to do.

The agile approach calls for managers to be supportive. They should advise and assist — not control. The team should make its own decisions to the greatest extent possible. The beauty of short sprints and frequent deliveries is that it is easy to re-direct the team if they wander off course.

The command-and-control mentality is a huge hurdle to the adoption of agile development in big corporations. Even managers who are supportive of agile principles are handcuffed by organizational demands and cultural constraints.

If your team is burdened with a manager that is overly controlling, try compromising along the lines of evaluating sprint deliverables. Perhaps in a single weekly or biweekly discussion, the manager’s questions can be answered and he can make adjustments as needed. (Note: Inviting the manager to the daily stand-ups is likely to be a bad idea.)

If your team has a manager that understands and wants to help but is hampered by corporate dogma, keep an open mind. Strategize together on ways to keep the corporate machine satisfied and away from your project while running the project in the most agile way you can.

It’s not easy being agile in a big, bulky organization but it can be done — if managers get out of the way.

Updated: February 13, 2011 — 9:09 pm