Agile leadership: A conversation with Management 3.0 author Jurgen Appelo

In his new book, Management 3.0 – Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders, Jurgen Appelo describes a different mindset for Agile leaders. In this interview he talks about this new management philosophy.

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Gone are the days of “command and control” management and hierarchical organizations.  Jurgen Appelo describes a new management philosophy that’s in-line with Agile development practices in his book, Management 3.0 – Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. In this interview, you’ll learn more about Management 3.0 and how it’s being used to bring organizations to higher levels of performance and productivity.

SSQ:  Let’s start by talking about the title. I typically think of technologies that are appended with 2.0 (such as Web 2.0) as those technologies that involve social media or collaboration. However, you define “Management 1.0” as Hierarchies, “Management 2.0” as Fads, and “Management 3.0” as Complexity. Tell us more about “Management 3.0.” Is it a style of management? What are the attributes that would indicate someone was using “Management 3.0”?

Jurgen Appelo: Management 3.0 isn’t just a new set of rules you can use to get your employees under control, so I’d rather not call it a “style” with “attributes” you can use. In the end it’s closer to a philosophy I guess.  But you definitely can recognize a manager who’s into Management 3.0 and when you see someone leading, inspiring and guiding instead of ordering around, you can assume he or she’s worth working for. But the easiest way probably is to ask team members whether their manager is an asset to them or a problem they have to cope with.

SSQ: The book specifically addresses “Agile leadership,” but are the practices recommended specifically for leaders in Agile software development, or will they apply to all leaders dealing with complex systems?

Appelo: Working with knowledge workers in general is working with a complex system. We are all, in the end, unpredictable. And the more thinking is part of our jobs, the harder it gets. As a manager you can get the best out of your team, whatever project they’re working on, by applying my six views of management 3.0: energize people, empower teams, align constraints, develop competence, grow structure and improve everything. That last one includes improving yourself as a manager.

SSQ:  In Chapter 2, you discuss the fundamentals of Agile and describe Agilists as people who believe in those fundamentals such as strong collaboration, cross-functional co-located teams, TDD, continuous integration, automation and so on.  However, there may be some strong leaders who are working in organizations who are still practicing traditional software development. Can those leaders still practice Agile leadership?

Appelo: Yes and no. Yes because, as a manager, you can decide how to lead your team. But at the same time no, because no matter how successful your specific contribution is, the result of the company as a whole will never be what it could or should be when the principles of Agile are applied on everything.  The interesting question for such a strong leader is: can you contribute to change the organization? Can you not only get your own team enthusiastic, but also your managers and everyone else? And if not, why would you want to work there in the first place?

SSQ:  In “The Competition of Agile,” you talk about other methodologies and models such as Lean software development, Software Craftsmanship, CMMI, and RUP, which some people claim can be used in Agile ways, while others think they are too bureaucratic. You mention that there are even conflicts in the Agile world such as Scrum vs. XP, for example. Do you believe the methodology is important to claim “agility”?

Appelo: No, not at all. As the first principle on the pamphlet for complex projects (page 377 of my book) states: each problem has multiple solutions. And the fourth principle is: each strange solution is the best one somewhere. On the other hand, Box, Draper already said in ’69 that all models are wrong, but some are useful, so using Agile methodologies can help people gaining experience. And while doing that, they will eventually find out how things work best for them. And that’ll probably mean doing things their own way.

SSQ: You discuss confusion about the manager’s role in Agile environments. With the trends towards self-directed teams and the Scrum Masters and project managers acting as servant leaders, where does that leave the role of the line manager?

Appelo: Where teams, Scrum Masters and project managers need to focus on the project, line managers need to focus on the bigger picture -- the organization as a whole. That’s a totally different ballgame, and line managers (and others in the organization) need to realize they don’t lead software projects, but they lead teams of people.You can’t focus on the whole picture and interfere with the details. You have to trust the people working for you. And if as a line manager you do your job well, that won’t be a gamble but an educated guess. 

SSQ: In Chapter 3, I think it’s quite interesting (and entertaining!) how you take the complex subject of complexity science and break it down into simple turns so that anyone can understand it. Can you tell our readers (in simple terms!) the difference between something complex and something complicated?

Appelo: How complicated something is depends on how hard it is to understand. For me, the tap in my bathroom is quite complicated, but the bookkeeping program I once wrote is fairly easy. For my plumber it’s probably the other way around. Complexity, on the other hand, has to do with how hard it is to predict something. That things are complicated don’t necessarily make them complex and vice versa though. Put three people in a room (not a very complicated situation) and things can get very complex in no-time.

SSQ: Do you believe it’s necessary for someone to have experience working in Agile development environments in order to be a strong Agile manager? What are the most important attributes upper management should look for when hiring managers to work in their Agile environments?

Appelo: You don’t necessarily need managers who have experience in an Agile development environment, as long as you make sure that their management style embraces the standard values of Scrum, XP and Lean. If someone takes to heart things like trust, respect, courage and openness, he or she can, in all likelihood, become a good Agile manager. In fact, lack of experience can also mean a different view on things and especially in complex systems, like an Agile development environment, diversity is very important and can result in better results.

SSQ: Who is the primary audience for your book and what will be their biggest takeaway?

Appelo: My book aims at managers who want to become Agile, and Agilists who want to become managers. But since the book is half theory/half practice, it is foremost suitable for practical people who work with others and who want to know the “why” behind human behavior in a working environment. One reader, not a manager and not in software whatsoever, compared the book with Top Gear, stating that he “hated cars, but loved the program.” In the same way he liked reading the book, although, in his own words, “his management capacities didn’t surpass tying his shoelaces correctly and he didn’t want to have anything to do with software.” It was, I think, the best review I could wish for. 

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