Agile Teams Do Not Need Managers

Agile Software Development Teams Don't Need ManagersI saw this post about Agile Managers? on the Agile Chronicles blog, and to be honest I found it a bit irritating.

It mentions the notion that self-organising teams could go so far that managers are not needed. It asks why a manager would want to do agile if it might put them out of a job, and raises the question, what will we do with all the spare managers?

In some ways I guess the comments are just meant to be light-hearted and are making a valid point. Basically that we still need managers, but maybe a manager’s role is different in an agile environment; perhaps more of a support role for the team.

That’s fine.

But the idea that managers might not be needed in an agile environment… I think in any organisation, this concept is bizarre.

Comments like this can sometimes make agile seem like some sort of developers’ uprising against the establishment. Personally I think agile is great. And I don’t think comments like this are helpful to the reputation of agile, or its growth in the mainstream.

Don’t get me wrong. I do agree that agile teams should be empowered.

It’s an important principle. And one of the first things I posted in my series about 10 Key Principles of Agile Software Development.

I also think it’s right that agile teams should be self-organising. But self-organisation is not boundaryless. Managers help teams to be self-organising within the constraints of their organisation.

And all teams need leadership. Ideally, inspirational leadership. Although leadership can take many forms, and emerge from anywhere in the team (not necessarily from managers), the appointed leaders (i.e. managers) must ultimately take responsibility for the team’s leadership.

In agile development, managers are definitely still needed. There are so many organisational issues and activities that must be considered that have a much wider span than the team itself. Budget, contracts, recruitment, performance management, suppliers, strategy and direction, policies, responsibility for delivery and quality, communication with stakeholders, and many more.

What I do firmly believe, though, is that agile managers need to turn their thinking upside-down.


Photo by johnwilson1969

5 Responses to “Agile Teams Do Not Need Managers”

  1. Mike Cottmeyer says:

    I think that you and I share a similar point of view on Agile Managers.

    I was not suggesting that Agile teams don’t need managers, and never really made that point in my post. What I was asserting is that the role of the manager is not explicitly defined in the agile literature. Many managers feel they don’t have a place on an agile team and are struggling to adapt. When people don’t know their role after an agile transition, that leads to fear, and fear leads to resistance.

    Do you have any thoughts on the idea that a resource manager could serve as a “ScrumMaster” of sorts to deal with people issues and organizational concerns???

  2. ladkins says:


    I agree that managers are still needed. I also agree that they need radically different thinking and even new skills training. So, I did something about it. With my colleague, Michael Spayd, I co-created a course called “The Compleat Agile Manager” to address just this. The managers that have taken the course so far have loved it and have told us how impactful it has been for them. A second endeavor – Michael and I are co-facilitating a session at Agile 2008 to get to the heart of the manager role in Agile, both theory and practice.

    I hear you! I am passionate about this, too.

  3. Joca Torres says:

    I’ve writen a post in my blog ab out this topic:

    Besides the non-technical responsibilities mentioned above (people management, new employees training and team representation to the rest of the organization), there’s now room for other responsibilities:

    - help the Scrum Master remove the barriers to a successful sprint and overall agile adoption;
    - help the Scrum Master coach and mentor the team members on the new process;
    - revise the product backlog with the PO in order to bring a technical view of the stories.
    - technical research, looking for new technologies and tendencies that could help the team;
    - increase the focus on the technical strategic planning.

  4. Andrew says:

    Kelly, I agree with your points. I had a tough time trying to figure out if there is a role for managers with agile teams. A year after making the transition from agile developer to manager, I now realize, of course there is. The main reason I made the transition is because I knew how I could get a team to deliver software – if left alone to do so. In most situations, there are many forces lining up to stop me from achieving this goal, so now I use my authority to clear the way for my teams to be more agile. Its not perfect, but its far better than when I started.

    In my experience human nature is what keeps a smart manager in place. There are so many out there who seem to be pushing against what I would call common sense (except it isn’t common) that it takes a manager to keep all the nonsense from his agile teams. In fact I think that in many cases managers actually allow the team to be agile – without which, other organizational forces would kill it.

  5. rowan says:

    I think that self managing teams are good in theory, however they have a high rate of failure because team members lack the necessary people skills. Many software developers are quite introverted, preferring to interact with their computers rather than people. In my experience, companies hardly spend any time on people skills and nothing on the even more difficult concept of what people need to do to ‘self-manage’ into a high-performing team.

    Rather than let agile teams try to reach high-performance by trial and error it seems to me that the first thing to do is for everyone to understand the behavioral characteristics of their team members. One of the important features of this is measuring individual work preferences and harnessing these to the tasks that need to be undertaken.

    To help agile teams prepare for the road to high-performance Bright Green Projects has teamed up with the Team Management Systems organization to provide a free 8-page assessment of what you think about your current (or future) agile team. We think it’s really valuable, I hope you think so too:

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