There are no traditional managers in the Agile world

Let’s face it: Traditional managers are outdated and uncool. New ways of working have left them aside completely and they are not even mentioned in the agile manifesto, but there still are managers, right? Let’s take a closer look.

Back in the days traditional managers had few tools to work with:

  1. A watch.
  2. A form plus a pencil/pen.
  3. People to measure.
  4. That’s it.

The traditional manager’s work was to approach any employee and measure the time they had been working on a certain task. If it was close to average then everything seemed to be fine, it was what they expected. If the time was above average the manager called the employee’s attention and demanded to see an improvement ASAP (because if you scream at people they’ll automatically improve. Duh!). If the employee’s time of completion of a certain task was below average they’d be promoted probably or, at least, set as the company’s example.

New Ways: What’s Changed?

The watch is now in the hands of the employee.

What does this mean for managers? What is their role now? Well according to Agile manifesto managers no longer exist. If you consider yourself a manager, you better start looking for something else to do because you’re extinct as a dinosaur.

What if There’s an Afterlife?

Actually the above paragraph is an actual quote from a conversation I had a while back with an Agile coach. We were discussing about the possibility of publishing and article about the manager’s role in an organization until I suddenly heard that “We cannot publish your story because managers do not exist according to the agile manifesto”. I couldn’t disagree more with that, but it got me thinking because nowhere in the manifesto the word manager appears even once.

Many, many, many companies have project managers, program managers, you name it, they are all over Linkedin. Did they forget to update their profile?

Well they are part of the teams for a reason. Let’s take a look at the Agile Manifesto once again: https://agilemanifesto.org/

After reading it all over (again) I listed a series of quotes that might give a hint of why managers are still around. Let’s take a look.

Quote #1

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.

Uncovering better ways of developing sounds like constant education and discovery, right? In order to achieve that, we need an auspicious environment, one that allows people to interact and grow and experiment and become better professionals. So, you need somebody in the team who makes sure that this takes place.. That’s why the quote says “helping others do it”, there is something you need to start working on right away.

Quote #2

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Pick the tools that suit you best. Help the team work better, smarter and faster. Leading is not only being great at writing code, delivering on time or nailing it at every meeting. It’s about improving constantly, and helping others do the same. Lead by example. Help your team get better individually and as a group.

Quote #3

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

I’ve been a developer. I’m a manager now. I wish no developer has to deal with contract negotiation while trying to figure out what’s the best approach to solve an engineering issue or feature. Managers are the ones who need to focus on unblocking the team as well as helping their customer get what they need. We need to help both our team and the customer to reach consensus and move forward with a hypothesis that can be tested. Assist your customers and your team that’s your main goal.

Quote #4

Responding to change over following a plan

There is no script to success. Projects are commonly untested hypothesis. You’re building something that must be tested and worked on constantly. No project ends until it’s over, things change. It’s just like life. Managers are the ones who need to react.

What’s Next?

Save some time to think about your tasks and what’s on your agenda the next couple of days. If any of the situations I’ve described are taking place in your work try to take a closer look. If you’re working in a team that has a micromanagement kind of manager, try to help them change day-to-day. If that’s not possible, run away. You don’t want to work there.

If you’re a manager and want to improve there is a lot of room for that too. I like to think managers as disposable modules that exist just because there are things that cannot take care of themselves. Everybody can use an extra hand, a word of advise or more space to grow professionally. You are not as dead as a dinosaur only if you adapt to new ways of working. Traditional managers aren’t efficient at all: measuring your employee’s work with a stopwatch or imposing tough rules is going to lead you nowhere. If you want to lead a team, you need to delegate, understand the people you work with, your customers and know how to empower each team member according to their strengths and weaknesses.

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