What’s a Manager to Do? Management’s Role in Scrum Organizations, Part III

I love the concept of self-managing teams.  Everyone figures out what needs to be done, and does their best to make the greater organization successful.  Beautiful.  Reminds me of the Shaker Village, the Russian Artel, or the Israeli Kibbutz.  All of which are (largely) extinct today.

There are three structural problems that, like termites behind the wallpaper in a French Quarter house, cause these “worker’s paradises” to fail.  Our job, as managers of the Innovation Engine, are to sniff ‘em out, expose them, and exterminate them.

Problem #3: The Buck Starts Here.

For all the happy talk about mission, values, and meaningful work, the ultimate metrics for business are financial.  Our inability to grow, make profits, secure new investors, etc., will ultimately end our ability to accomplish our missions, support our values, or provide work to our employees and worse yet, ours bosses. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that we managers can use money (or their engineering equivalents, people) to accomplish great things.  Which things we choose to accomplish is largely up to us.

No, that doesn’t mean we want to create our own user stories, and reprioritize the backlog to meet the requirements communicated to us in our sleep by our deceased pet snake.  That’s the product owner’s job.

The Scrum process, like its Lean predecessors, is based on incremental improvement.  That’s great for two reasons: first the changes are small enough that we can get them done and see the results before the environment has changed, and second because they are small enough in scope that the individuals in development or product management can understand and control them.

We managers have to see the bigger picture, and that generally means determining the funding level for each of the initiatives we have.  Adding people to a team will eventually, not withstanding our bad management, increase its velocity.  Pulling people off will generally do the opposite (although not as quickly as you might think …….).

The optimization problem for the overall success of the organization involves lots of variables, but that’s really why they pay us the big bucks.  Is this group servicing a stable and productive customer, while this other group is struggling to overcome a mountain of technical debt?  Are competitors starting to emerge for what has been a stable area? Has this project achieved most of its goals? Is it time to determine what should be the next big initiative?

The purely business and marketing side of the equation is usually an area of influence, not control, for the development manager.  But the assignment of resources to projects is the execution of that strategy, and requires management comprehension and “buy-in.” For those of you uncertain, the term “buy-in” refers to agreeing to do something you’d really rather not do at the risk of losing your job.  It’s been around a long time, but has flourished in the recession.

On the technical side, there are important funding issues to consider.  One of the biggest is the effect of architecture on the overall success of projects.  Studies have demonstrated that one of the biggest factors in ROI for IT initiatives is the quality of the underlying architecture.  Should you add features to your Windows XP app, re-write it to run on an i-Phone, or re-write it to run within your CRM system?  Big questions with lots of impact both in the short term or long term.


Senior engineering management is a tough job with many tasks and responsibilities, too numerous to list here, but including team dynamics, people management, strategic funding decisions, and golf at expensive resorts.  Middle management has similar responsibilities, without the golf.

Great organizations are rarely the product of good luck.  Great leadership recruits the right people, puts them in the right roles, identifies problems and fixes them, and looks ahead at trends to make sure resources are assigned to the right places.

In Scrum, this doesn’t require a lot of managers, but does require of lot from managers.  Empowering managers to act, and ensuring that they do, is critical to the long-term success of your Agile organization.

Posted in: AccuRev, Agile, Best Practices, Humor, Scrum, Tips and Tricks, Uncategorized

Leave a Comment (0) ↓

Leave a Comment

Anti-Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree