Stop Managing. Start Leading. Be Agile.

Managers: Want your company to be more agile? Learn to let go!

Managers are trained to maintain control. Their annual reviews reinforce the need to make good decisions and stay in control. And then along comes agile software development.

There’s an immediate and harsh conflict. Agile teams need to take control. They can’t be agile if they’re simply following orders. That’s much too restrictive.

When I refer to an “agile team”, I’m talking about all the people needed to make the product or software system successful. So it’s not just about software engineers. We need to include real end users, business stakeholders, marketers, UX designers, testers, data center operators, etc. Only multidisciplined teams can be truly agile.

Of course, with so many diverse groups represented on the team, we’ll have many managers involved. There will be one or more managers associated with each specialty group — for example, a group manager, department manager and director. Every group manager will want to control his or her team members. That spells c-o-n-f-l-i-c-t!

Those team members will be torn between allegiance to their team and allegiance to their managers. It’s not right to place them in that position. Let go!

It’s the difference between managing and leading.

Managers seek to control. They establish procedures and protocols. They define rules and systems to maintain order. They are primarily responsible for running the business.

Leaders seek to energize. They create goals and motivate people to reach them. They establish direction, communicate it clearly, and help clear obstacles. They are primarily responsible for aligning people with the needs of the business.

Of course, few, if any, companies refer to their managers as leaders. It’s probably just as well. Titles are rather meaningless, anyway. The bottom line is managers need to stop telling their people what to do and how to do it. Instead, they should ask questions. Listen to the answers. Guide. Motivate. Prioritize.

It’s fine to express concern and even to pitch an idea to the team. But, ultimately the team members need to make decisions guided most directly by the Product Owner and/or key business stakeholders. (Hopefully, those folks are being driven by the end users and strategic business goals!)

Updated: July 29, 2012 — 10:18 pm