Managing Expectations – The Art of Being a Better Agile Manager

August 5, 2009 CollabNet VersionOne

The question I was faced most with in a recent engagement was, “How do I manage expectations when so many people are asking for different forms of the same deliverable? How can I expect my team to keep that many balls in the air?”

My reaction, after the shock settled in of course was, what is so out of the ordinary about the expectations that have been set for you and your team? Furthermore, what did you do to retain upward visibility while still maintaining distance between management and the team?

A recent Leading Agile Post reviewed the role of a manager on the agile team and even went as far as decrying the demise of the role of manager on many teams while trumpeting the fact that managers will never go away. The final verdict sounded like something I have been saying for some time. After numerous comments and a long twitter thread, all agreed that the role of an Agile Manager needs to evolve. This beckons the question, how do we prepare managers to be recipients of Agile projects and how do we establish reasonable expectations for the team that they may agree to?

The fact is, managers got to the position where they currently work due to their ability to make great decisions and to assist as many others as possible to reach project completion. When the rubber hits the road, these are the people who are recognized for their ability to get things done! I truly feel that the most often overlooked piece of the puzzle is the re-defined role of the manager as a servant leader.

I just do not believe the hype about any team who claims to be 100% self organized. At best I have seen teams 10% self organized in a pool of 90% command and chaos! As more and more teams embrace agile and Lean thinking, teams will need to rely more on solid managers who have redefined their role to fit in the agile schema and will progress by having servant leadership available to remove obstacles when necessary.

The last remaining thought is how do we get ScrumMasters, Project Leads, Program Managers, Development Leads & Mangers, Product Managers & Owners, Etc. to better understand their new responsibilities on the newly rock solid Agile or Lean team? My guess is that this will require a little more doing than reading, a little more positive re-investment as opposed to scrapping the role all together.

What we really need is a defined Agile Mentor. We all know the first step is to understand all of the pieces of the puzzle. The next step is to separate the edges from the middle pieces. Next we match like colors, and finally we work as a team to build a high quality puzzle. Why should we treat this any different? We really need to stop for a moment, take a deep breath, regain our focus, and scream to the world that we can be agile! We can follow Lean principles. We are ready to embrace rapid application development. We understand and can use Scrum Tools and XP tools to help our team improve! We are ready to do what it takes to be successful.

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