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The changing roles of Agile managers: Scrum Gathering Atlanta

At Scrum Gathering Atlanta, Julia Dillon, application services manager at Capital Group Companies, delivered an informative session titled, “Do Agile Teams Need Managers? A Series of Fortunate Events,” in which she first described what happened when the coach left her team and then opened the discussion for suggestions on how to handle management of an Agile team.

Dillon explained the various points of view involved; managers consider themselves necessary and great “doers,” yet they are confused about their role and can be disorganized. Team members view management as confused about Agile and sometimes out of touch. When the Agile coach is gone, the team may find itself lacking the personality, experience, confidence or some combination of these traits that the coach brought to the team.

In response, the team Dillon worked on created an action plan that entailed collaboration and attendance of some members at an Agile leadership workshop to get some clarity about roles, strategies and accountability.

Among other topics, her team learned about the differences between organizational design and command and control, learned some tools and practices and learned how to bridge the gap between disparate visions on the team. They discovered that the role of management encompasses engaging actively with the business side, being “people” people, handling portfolio management and creating the right environment.

In the new world view, management team roles break down into a senior manager in charge of budgeting, strategy and investment planning; a manager serving as an “Uber” Product Owner, who is the portfolio manager, aligning investment strategy and business value; and a manager serving as an “Uber” Scrum Master, who delivers large-scale program planning and execution as well as removes organizational impediments, according to Dillon. Furthermore, the performance objectives are different for each level of management.

She highlighted the most prescient needs of an Agile organization from its management team, including setting a the bar high for goals, developing the talents of individual team members, delegating someone whose task it is to “keep it fresh” and creating an environment in which team members can take risks and ask questions.

Participants in the session offered additional suggestions, explaining that since Scrum teams are self-organizing, managers play a key role in developing personnel, training, quality initiatives and communities of practice. Others mentioned that excessive management is not needed as Scrum Masters act in a leadership role.

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