Agile Teams Do Not Need Managers

I 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.


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