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Managing self-organizing teams

by Joe Little, 8 June 2013 | The Agile Blogosphere

This content is syndicated from LeanAgileTraining by Joe Little. To view the original post in full, click here.

How do we suggest that managers …well… manage self-organizing teams?

By self-organizing, we also mean self-managing.  Let’s assume that not all ‘self-organizing teams’ will self-organize or self-manage effectively.

So, a few suggestions.

1. Get rid of almost all the old stuff.

We really want you to think about getting rid of it all.  I cannot say from a distance that it will actually be good in every case to get rid of it all. But if you can’t justify it to skeptics, it likely it not useful stuff (meeting, report, dashboard, whatever).

Maybe keep one or two ‘group’ meetings at fairly long intervals, eg, once a month. (We are assuming that the Sprint meetings will give them and you most of the information you all need.)

2. Offer to give the teams feedback.

Get reasonable information from the Scrum teams. Information that they already have.  Discuss with them how you are looking at overall success.  Go to the main meetings. Offer to discuss.  Offer to give feedback.  But don’t force yourself on them.

2b. Overall success

Of course managers should be involved in defining overall success for a team. The basic mission and the key constraints.

I would typically recommend a focus on business value and velocity.  By velocity, we always have to say “We don’t want you working more than 40 hours per week, but we want the overall velocity of the team to double. By removing impediments, not by working harder.”  And focus on quality. Always, it needs to be higher.

Measuring BV success is hard, but important.  (Much more to say, but not here, now.)

In general, business managers should be defining what BV is.  What BV means for a specific team.  Not technology managers.  Ceteris paribus.  (Other things equal.)

3. Offer to fix impediments.

Offer to help. Or approve money, or other people, or just help get permission.

Offer once each Sprint, at least.

4. Group yourselves in small teams (of managers).

We think managing Scrum teams doing innovation is very hard.  The problems each team is trying to address are usually quite hard.  The dynamics inside a team are complex. Etc. Etc. It is a problem (or set of problems) where we need multiple heads to consult.

So, I recommend that 3 managers group themselves, and manage 5-7 teams together. And consult with each other about how to help the teams be more successful.

As implied by my prior comments, at least one of these managers should be a business manager.  Someone who looks at things mainly through a BV lens.

5. Impediment Removal Team

I recommend managers form an “impediment removal team” (IRT).  And that the managers take impediments from the teams, and work on them, one at a time. And deliver ‘fixes’.

Discuss with the team when the IRT will take impediments, and when the impediments will ‘stay’ with the team.

6. After some time, intervene if the team is failing.

“After some time” is the hard part.  How long to wait?  How much do you say?  When?  How?

First, let me suggest that if you smell problems, ask the Team.  And ask them if they want help.

Do not look only at the ‘leaders’ in the team (eg, the PO and the SM).  Ask the whole team.  Remind them that they are all responsible for success.

In some cases, the team or the situation can be quite messed up. You just must intervene.  But usually they should at least have told you the problems (the impediments) and you should be agreeing.  And usually, depending on the nature of the impediment, you have given the team a reasonable opportunity to address the impediment themselves, their way.

And your action (as a small team of managers) could be selected from a very broad range, depending on the nature of the situation.

You could cancel the effort.
You could disband the team.
You could add or subtract a person.
You could some people more highly dedicated.
You could help them get better Continuous Integation and better automated testing.
You could help them improve the Agile Specs getting into the Team (just enough, just in time, documentation).
You could get a more specific impediment fixed. In possibly lots of different categories.

Does this make the manager’s job more specific?

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