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What Are Best Practices for Agile Managers?

29/08/2011

What are the best practices for Agile managers? Which recurring tasks should managers put on their task lists?

Helping-hand Yes I know, there is no such thing as a “best” practice. But some practices are a “best guess” when you try to produce some good results.

But what about Agile management?

It’s a bit unfair, isn’t it?

Software developers, testers, business analysts, and project managers have plenty of frameworks and methodologies available to select their “best” practices.

But what should be on the TO DO lists of development managers and team leaders?

But what do you think?

Which practices make a manager’s job Agile?

I want to know the concrete best practices for Agile managers. And with concrete I mean we should be able to explain to a novice manager how to perform it. “Trust your people” is abstract, not concrete. “Bring them coffee each morning” is concrete.

Many managers and leaders still operate at the Shu-level of management. They need concrete advice, and step-by-step guidance. A person who is just learning to drive a car has no use for high-level values. They need concrete tips for sitting in their chair, holding the wheel, and looking at the road. They will understand the values soon enough, if they survive.

What do we teach managers who are just learning to survive Agile projects?

Please add your suggestions to this blog posts. I will select three people who will each win a free copy of the Management 3.0 book.

(Jurgen Appelo is author of Management 3.0, a best-selling management book for Agile developers. It has a picture of a monster in it.)

(photo by GrowWear)

This article is written by on in Management & Leadership. Jurgen Appelo is at Happy Melly. Connect with Jurgen Appelo on .

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  • http://imistaken.blogspot.com/ Lior Friedman

    Hi Jurgen.
    Im not sure it counts. but my best practice is actually something you should NOT do.
    and that is:
    As an agile manager don’t allocate work/tasks for the team on your own. make sure that the team decide who does what.
    (ill write more details in a blog post)

  • http://vivina.com.br Sidney Lima Filho

    It´s very important that managers realize coaching sessions, for reach personal realization of each member team, because no one can delivery more than he is.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/leanlooney Patrick Verheij

    In line with the Gemba walk, I’d suggest these managers to watch and learn by attending some retrospectives and sprint demos of experienced agile teams. Mostly shutting up and listening at first and asking questions after a few of those sessions. Parallel to that, they could attend some training sessions in which they are taught the fallacies of ‘control’ and how to let go of it.
    See it as starting an ADKAR or ADAPT (Mike Cohn) cycle for their involvement in agile practices.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jcqualitystreet JcQualitystreet

    Hi Jurgen,
    Make yourself available and see everyone of your team individually (one on one) once a week is an effective practice.
    “It’s hard but It’s worth” as said an “agile manager” I coached!
    JC
    http://www.agile-ux.com

  • Elco

    Know the members of your team. Who are they, what’s their personal situation, hobbies, etc. What motivates them. Information you can use to help & empower the individual members and the team as a whole.
    How? Be interested! ‘Share’ a cup of coffee once a week!

  • tom de wolf

    Making yourself obsolete by facilitating a self-organizing agile team.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/mgaewsj Gaetano Mazzanti

    measure what you do/achieve (as a manager)
    use learn->measure->adapt/change->learn->measure->etc … cycles
    set your goals, reach them and move to new goals
    what the team achieves also reflects your effectiveness
    as this may sound abstract…
    here are a couple of concrete examples…
    effective meetings ->
    you could use ROTI (Return On TIme Invested) at the end of each meetings that you facilitate
    if ROTI is low (definition of “low” needed) adapt, learn and verify improvements
    happiness index ->
    sporadic dips are ok, but repeated ‘sadness’ is your issue and has to be addressed
    now how do you figure out the right actions to take?
    as suggested above you should watch, study, go to workshops/tutorials, do gemba walks.
    I would also add to just try and experiment your own ideas
    and always ask for feedback

  • http://vivina.com.br Sidney Lima Filho

    In first month, listen more than talk. In second month listen and suggest, but yet listen more. In third month listen and suggest, but suggest more.
    Don´t put software to resolve problems that you don´t know it. Better, in 3 months d’ont put software. Period.
    From the fourth month onwards, maybe can to use some software

  • http://techno-realism.blogspot.com Lalatendu Das

    Here are a few concrete best practices for newly minted agile managers (as interpreted from the Agile principles)
    - Focus on optimizing the “business value” being delivered by the agile team. You may decide on your own metrics for business value (qualitative, quantitative or gut feel), but key is to have a sense ..at all times
    - Ensure delivery of a fully working software at end of each sprint
    - Periodically (pick your own frequency) Review and optimize the ‘Done’ list
    - Identify key stakeholders and ensure their participation (as required) during the entire project life cycle
    - Set expectations clearly (with all stakeholders), manage expectations to avoid last minute surprises
    - Make an genuine effort to understand all aspects of the project (example: if you are not technical, don’t avoid the architecture all together, try to gather just enough understanding)
    - Set up information radiators (to convey real time information to all stakeholders)
    - Focus on attaining a sustainable velocity quickly and early in the project life-cycle (it helps in planning and avoids burn outs)
    - Watch out for ‘Smells’ (things which might be an impediment to agile practices
    Last but not the least, demonstrate thought leadership and show genuine concern for professional growth of each member of the team. It’s essential to win the respect of the team. You would always be better of by being a ‘Leader’ rather than a ‘Manager’

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robvanlanen Robvanlanen

    Concrete practice: Organize FedEx Days regularly…. (or a similar initiative like 20% time)
    For us, this boosted: teamwork, intrinsic motivation, creativity and self-organization in our team!
    More info about how that worked for us: http://bit.ly/fedexday

  • http://profile.typepad.com/benjaminm2 Benjaminm

    In order to balance a lot of the management advice which is to “work on the people” rather than the system, I’d suggest a focus on “what’s stopping the team from being effective?” with the view to understand and removing these issues.
    As a concrete practice, at the end of each daily stand up ask “what wasted your time?”. Allow them to name anything they think was a waste of their time and ask them to give you a rough sizing of the impact. Write them down on post-it notes. Periodically, review the list and look for the key sources of variation (there will commonly be a pareto like distribution). Use some problem solving approach (PDCA, A3 etc) to address the cause. Continue to track the “wasted time” issues to see if any change resulted in an improvement.
    As the team matures, share the responsibility for recording and tracking the wasted time data, and for them focussing on specific causes.

  • http://theITRiskManager.Wordpress.com Chris Matts

    Do not make assumptions.
    If you think you know something, confirm your understanding by asking questions or by doing a “spike”.
    The hardest task is spotting your assumptions.
    The first assumption is that “People tell the truth to others and themselves”. Just because someone on your team says they like doing “XYZ” does not mean they actually like doing it. They may lie to themselves about liking it. They may find it hard to tell you what they really think.
    As Elco says, get to know your team. I prefer to change the setting (coffe bar, lunch, comfy chairs in the atrium) to reduce the influence of the context.
    P.S. What tools for business analysts?

  • http://blog.thescrumster.com Elad Sofer (@eladsof)

    Allow learning by failure – Do not prevent mistakes unless the cost of fixing it is more than a few days.
    P.S. I wanted to write “cost of fixing it is very high” but it didn’t seems to match the “specific” criteria.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/benlinders BenLinders

    Hi Jurgen,
    Some practices that make management Agile are:
    - Team staffing practices like Belbin, team building, etc
    - Establishing proper working conditions, like the 40 hour workweek, arranging team spaces and rooms for “quiet” and “loud” work, etc
    - Providing teams with sufficient and timely information (empowerment)
    - Setting team goals and “bonuses” (in stead of individual goals/rewards)
    - Enabling training and development opportunities for teams, like team learning days
    Looking at models that can help to manage agile teams, there is the People CMM (http://www.sei.cmu.edu/cmmi/tools/peoplecmm/), well, if you deploy it in an agile way that is. I’ve described a People-CMM roadmap for agile, for those who are interested in this see http://www.benlinders.com/2010/implementing-agile-with-the-people-cmm/. Also the Team Software Process provides support on how to manage teams (http://www.sei.cmu.edu/tsp/).
    Is this what you are looking for?

  • Jorge Diz

    Ensure that people work on one project at a time
    Ensure that the team has a fixed staff, not many people coming and going
    Promote pairing between programmers and other roles (tester, manager, functional analyst, operations)
    Reserve a fixed percentage of time for slack (learning, experimenting, leisure)
    Keep an eye on sustainability. Working overtime has to be very rare, and compensated with free time.
    Bring tools and hardware: adequate chairs, two screens per computer.
    No cubicles, single room for the project and meetings, information radiators, whiteboards, no clean desk policy
    No separate meeting rooms
    Unlimited access to the internet
    Natural light

  • http://profile.typepad.com/leanlooney Patrick Verheij

    Posting a second and maybe even more important practice for managers, as freely quoted from “Out of the Crisis” by W. Edwards Deming:
    “The job of every manager (agile or not) is to learn about the things that keep people from doing a better job and help them get rid of those things.”
    If you do that, people will love you and achieve far better results. As a bonus, you will automatically pave the way for continuous improvement, both on a personal and an organizational level.

  • http://www.agilesavvy.com Dave Updike

    Jurgen,
    Managers must
    * support and help protect the team
    * give the team environment where they can deliver great software
    * be close enough to the team to understand what it going on but stay far enough away to not get in their way

  • Angelo

    Talk with your people. Listen to each and everyone’s concern – regardless whether it’s on a personal or professional level. You never know how much these things are intertwined. Motivate them. Inspire them. I’ve seen some agile (and not so agile) managers suck not because they lack the competence but rather because they lack the *humane-ness* expected of them as a leader.
    A lot of times, the big push that every individual needs is the assurance that their managers care just as deeply with them as a person and the projects they are working on.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/wouterla Wouterla

    Make your responsibilities to your team explicit. For instance, commit to solving your team’s top impediments (Benjamin’s ‘what wasted your time?’ items being good contenders).
    And, since we’re agile/lean and love visibility, hang them on your wall so everyone can see what they are (and whether they’re moving).

  • http://profile.typepad.com/pierreneis Pierre Neis

    Ensure that your Product is “buildable” according to team capacities.
    Consolidate continuous improvement metrics and facilitate cross operation by reducing back office works.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks everyone for the suggestions.
    But some of it I don’t consider concrete.
    Advice to “know your team”, “facilitate self-organization”, “learn by failure”, “protect the team” is all still too abstract for me.
    However, advice to “attend a standup”, “share a coffee”, “use A3 approach”, and “make a happiness index” now THAT is concrete advice.
    Anything else?

  • http://vivina.com.br Sidney Lima Filho

    A bad system ALWAYS WIN smart people! So begining the 6 initial months analyze which process leverage the complexity in your system. Which constraints them create. How rebuild the processes eliminating complexity.
    After 6 initial months, hands-on. Change the processes.

  • http://vivina.com.br Sidney Lima Filho

    Organize your time, with timebox. Example: Don’t waste more than 1 hour to read/to delegate your mails.

  • http://vivina.com.br Sidney Lima Filho

    Interview your Director (or immediate superior) to detect what aggregate value to company. Because you will need those to make decisions.

  • http://www.andrefaria.com André Faria Gomes

    What about colaborative hiring? Some kind of hiring process that involves all the team.

  • http://www.rinivansolingen.com Rini van Solingen

    Be an impediment buster.
    One great Agile manager I visited had on the door of his office a sign saying:
    “I have committed myself to resolve the following impediments before the start of the next sprint”
    and then had max. 2 sticky notes with “his” impediments.
    Everyone saw it, visual and transparent, and he was reminded about them every time he came in and out of his office.
    Great example of supportive leadership. When you ask commitment of your teams, give them your commitment to solver the problems they need your help with.

  • http://www.thinkproductivity.net Steffen Lentz

    Develop a vision of your product and your project. Continuously check where the team falls short of this and then go and help to get things fixed.

  • Tomata

    I’m a new employee in a team of 3. When answering my shocked questions throughout the first week of the job, non of them seemed to think that there was anything wrong with having no agreed coding standards, no code reviews, no team meetings, no testing and no simulators: there’s this one guy in the company you have to call and ask to operate a thingy, so you can see data in the app (!)
    So, If I were to coach my team leader towards becoming agile, the first step would have to be: Start think “what can be done better”. Stop assuming where you are and what you do is the only reasonable way. Get your team thinking like that too. Hold a meeting and ask “what is not great? What can be done otherwise?” and ask it again and again until everybody stops saying “I don’t see any reason to change”.

  • http://tonyxzt.blogspot.com/ Antonio Lucca

    Stay physically close to the teams,
    show genuine interest and make appreciation for what they are doing,
    look at their information radiators, before asking any question,
    ask them if they need some help,
    Be more “referent power” person and sometimes “expert”, and less “coercive”, “legitimate”, or “reward” power person.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/johantre Johan_tre

    Say what you believe, act to what you believe, and thrust and loyalty will emerge.
    Leave out command-and-control (swear it!:)) and guide through what causes change in mindset & behavior.
    Nurture your flock. (DO bring them caffeine when they need :))
    Identify teams motivation and actually make use of it!
    Guard acceptance criteria, for both interests; Provider & Customer.
    Guard common properties (that are overlooked by individual teams)

  • http://rajivnarula.com Rajiv

    Be dispensable.

  • Fernanda

    “What do we teach managers who are just learning to survive Agile projects?”
    I do not improve agile technics yet, ’cause I work with systems’ support, but I’m studying a lot about that. I guess, based on my academic experience, that the most important thing to considerate by managers is the collaborative level of the team. When all the team work together, and have freedom to interact and exchange experiences, everyone can help the project development. Implementing agile techniques may be natural, then.

  • http://greiterweb.de/spw/Understand_Agile.htm Gebhard Greiter

    Simpy see Project”>http://greiterweb.de/spw/Understand_Agile.htm>Project Manager’s Definition of Agile.