Goodbye, Management

Bob, I’ll call him Bob, is a good guy. A nice guy. A well-intentioned guy. I’ll start by saying that.

Like many other managers, his new mandate is to help drive innovation. From me, Bob wanted a way to learn agile as a manager. I really thought about it. I mentioned the Agile Manifesto- at a mere 68 words it’s a quick start and it’s probably the only thing everyone would agree is agile.

Beyond that, I didn’t really have much that I was sure would help him. To move forward, I think we’d have to answer these questions:
What does it mean to be manager?
What do you want to get out of it?

You see, if you assume management is essentially this approach to business where there’s a strategy and then a plan and then a bunch of people that recursively direct other people to execute that plan, then agile is pretty much the opposite of management. Yes, strategy still matters: agile’s not about everyone running around and doing whatever they feel like. However, with agile you formulate a relatively customer/problem-centric strategy and then generate agile team charters that allow individual teams to work autonomously while staying aligned with the strategy.

In practice, a high-functioning agile environment is pretty different than a traditionally managed environment. Self-organization is the goal vs. command and control.

What does that mean for managers? In a traditionally managed environment, headcount is pretty closely tied to prestige. In an agile environment, it isn’t. If that sounds strange to you, consider the fact that the 13 employees at Instagram shared a billion dollar payout after 15 months. As a businessperson, what more could you possibly want, economically? With agile and with innovation, I would say the goal is to get on a strong, interdisciplinary team working on a problem/job that has a lot of upside. That’s my advice for Bob.

If you love and/or are gifted at leadership and helping others, there is certainly the job of helping others practice agile. However, I think the only want to learn it in a meaningful way is to practice it on a real team that’s solving a real problem. You can’t teach someone to shoe a horse if you’ve never been near a barn.

In summary, my top three pieces of advice for the manager are:

  1. You’re Not Your Headcount
    Many of the most interesting roles today don’t have (and don’t need) a large headcount.
  2. You Are Your Team
    Interdisciplinary teams of around 5-10 individuals are doing amazing things. Try to get on one of those.
  3. Commit Yourself to Lifelong Learning
    Your job on that team will be hands-on and you may not have all the necessary skills. Just go get them! Separate topic, but we’re in a new era of lifelong learning and professional development. If you try it, I think you’ll like it.

Goodbye, Reader?

That’s it, but this doesn’t have to be goodbye. If you have a great story about applying agile or generally driving innovation, I’d love to hear from you. If you’re interested in learning an applied version of agile/innovation, I can’t help but recommend my online course, Agile Development on Coursera.