I might be the first one to complain about bad managers. Heck, throughout my career, I’ve had more than my share of incompetent, self-centered, and poor-intentioned leaders. So, it would be easy for me to jump on the bandwagon in the agile community that lambastes managers on a daily basis.

No, you say. This doesn’t happen. We in the agile world embrace and respect all roles and all people.

Well here’s an example from the Larman & Bodde – Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) book. The reference is from Anton Zotin, an agile coach, and it was published on LinkedIn. And no, I’m not picking on Anton or the LeSS guys. I’m just using this as an example. There are countless others.

When I feel bad I like to re-read this book to boost up my positivity:

"Blah-blah managers abound in most organizations! Examples: fault managers (we have bugs), release managers (problems releasing), feature managers (problems coordinating), quality managers (problems with quality), etc. The leading organizations have blah-blah departments headed by blah-blah manager managers who guide their blah-blah managers and the blah-blah specialists through their blah-blah career path".

And, yes, this is a direct quote from the book.

Now. If I’m a “manager” reading the LeSS book, I don’t feel very much empathy or respect. I feel stereotyped and marginalized. By people, who don’t know me, my background, my skills, my journey, my intentions, etc. It’s absolutely shameful.

Sure, these sorts of controversial, blanket statements might resonate with many folks in agile teams. And they certainly might sell a few more books or consulting gigs. But I don’t think they’re particularly helpful.

And it gets worse…

If you read further in the LeSS book, you’ll discover that Bas and Craig have much more to say about management. In fact, they Talk about it being “optional” and allude to what it should and should not be doing.

For example, they want management to focus on the growth and efficiency of the team and the organization. Not on execution dynamics, for that is the domain of the team. And the agile coach in me “buys” that to a great degree.

But what if I’m a manager who has skills and capabilities to offer the teams.? What if I’ve worked for 25 years in the business domain and intimately understand some key customer dynamics? Shouldn’t I be able to share this with the team?

I think they would say, no.

Which I think lacks common sense and situational awareness that is lost when we apply blanket statements to roles.

But beyond LeSS, much of the agile community marginalizes other roles. For example, I hear chuckling, joking, and kibitzing around the value of:

  • Testers,

  • Project Managers,

  • PMO’s,

  • Business Analysts,

  • And Architects as well.

And I’ve fallen prey to it on occasion as well. For example, many consider the role of Agile Project Manager to be an oxymoron. I struggle with it myself. But I also challenge myself to not stereotype, marginalize or otherwise make irrelevant the role AND the people who are in that role.

The Kanban Approach

Now I struggle at times with David Anderson’s perspectives in the agile world and his delivery of some of the aspects of Kanban. I guess when you’re in the league of an Anderson, Bodde, or Larman, part of your appeal is how contentious and aggressive you are about challenging the status quo.

Anyway, I digress.

As I was saying, David, amplifies one of the key starting points of Kanban is “meeting them where they are” or “start where you are”. That is –

  • Meet the organization

  • Meet the leaders

  • Meet the managers

  • Meet the structures

  • Meet the teams

  • And, meet the individuals where they are. Starting from their current position.

Don’t add/remove roles. Don’t tell people – “That’s not agile”. Don’t marginalize folks but deal with everyone respectfully. He doesn’t specifically state it this way, but also recognize and celebrate their past accomplishments.

I LOVE this mindset and starting posture from Kanban. In fact, I wish every agile coach and scaling authority would start their conversations this way.

Wrapping Up

I’ve written recently about our need within the agile community to get back to basics. That we’ve lost much of the intent and wisdom of the early agile methods and their focus.

But I also believe we have evolved into a place of disrespect for certain roles. And that’s not a good trend as well. I don’t believe you enter into effective digital transformations (agile transformations, cultural shifts, organizational reshaping, etc.) without embracing ALL roles. And beginning from a position of empathy and respect.

In that regard, Kanban really “gets” the right starting position. Hopefully, we all stop the us and them partitioning that is stopping our ability to truly engage the entire organization in change.

Just because managers might be “hard” doesn’t mean the strategy should be to get rid of them all…or marginalize or stereotype them all. That’s certainly not in the true spirit of agility, is it?

Stay agile my friends,