Agile Q&A: Is There a Place for Managers in an Agile Organization?

Agile Q&A: Is There a Place for Managers in an Agile Organization?

Agile Q&A: Is There a Place for Managers in an Agile Organization?
via Agile Alliance by Kent McDonald

When organizations adopt Agile practices, there are a few roles that often get left out of the picture because they were not explicitly noted in the framework that the organization follows. I’ve already addressed business analysts, testers, and project managers. The other most common group is development managers.

By development managers, I mean the people who the members of the team report to. Depending on how your organization worked before adopting Agile, development managers generally decided what projects their team worked on and which team members worked on which projects.

Oh yeah, and amongst all that they were responsible for developing the skills of their team and acting as their front line “boss”.

The more an organization buys into the concept of self-organizing teams the more likely development managers start to feel the heat.

I’d suggest that the move to an Agile way of working does not eliminate the need for development managers, rather it gives them the opportunity to do what they wanted to do in the first place.

Why did you become a development manager?

Agile Q&A: Is There a Place for Managers in an Agile Organization?I’ve had the opportunity to work with several development managers in a wide variety of organizations and found that generally speaking there are two reasons that someone moved from being a team member to becoming a development manager.

One reason people become development managers is because they got to a certain point in their career and realized the next step (i.e. a raise) meant becoming a manager. So although they’d much rather code (and often continue to code on the side), they see the writing on the wall and become a manager.

The second reason people become development managers is because they are genuinely interested in helping people improve their skills and would rather do that than write code.

If you’re a development manager in an organization that is adopting an Agile approach, it’s helpful to reflect on why you became a development manager and use that to help guide your decision about what you do going forward.

What development managers do in an Agile setting

If you became a development manager for the first reason mentioned above, you may use your organization’s move to an Agile approach to establish a technical career ladder and then take advantage of that new ladder to get back to what you really enjoy doing – writing code.

If you became a development manager for the second reason, the move to Agile provides you an excellent opportunity to do exactly what you wanted to do when you became a development manager – develop your team.

In fact you have more time to focus on developing your team because you don’t have to spend so much time trying to figure out who is going to work on what this week. Your team is stable and dedicated, and they are the ones deciding the specifics of what they are working on in any given week.

That frees you up to provide them opportunities to improve their technical skills through identifying resources to help them learn and put them in situations where they can try out new technologies and learn from each other. You can also help you your staff improve their problem solving skills by stepping back and letting them resolve issues that are within their control to solve.

There are going to be situations where your team faces a challenge that is beyond their ability to address. And that’s where the other main thing that development managers do in an Agile setting – address organizational issues that get in the way of their team(s).

You’re in a good position to address those issues because you have visibility into the impact of issues on multiple teams, you’re in a better position in the organization’s hierarchy to address the issues, and you can free up the team to stay focused on work to move their product forward. A key here is to know the balance of standing back when your team can address their own issues and when to step up to help the team address issues beyond their control.

A final thing that you do as a development manager is provide air cover for your team. Keep unnecessary distractions away from your team so that they can focus on the product they’re working on. Providing air cover may be intercepting requests for information from others in your organization and redirecting requests for your team to work on something not related to the outcome they are currently focused on.

What adjustments have you made?

When you’re a development manager in an Agile organization, you have the opportunity to focus on developing your team and you have the responsibility to help your team keep focused and address broader issues that get in their way.

What other adjustments have you made as a development manager working in an Agile organization? Please share your experiences in the comments.


About the Author

Kent is a writer and product manager who helps product people deliver powerful internal products. He has IT and product development experience in a variety of industries including financial services, health insurance, nonprofit, and automotive. Kent practices his craft as Content Curator at Agile Alliance and shares his ideas and experiences at When not writing or product managing, Kent is his family’s #ubersherpa, listens to jazz and podcasts (but not necessarily podcasts about jazz), and collects national parks.

This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented
are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.

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