Defining the Department Manager's Role in Agile Adoptions

Eugene LaiTue, 01/21/2020 - 10:54

If you read the Scrum Guide, you will see that there is no mention of the Functional (or Department) Manager. Does this mean that if you are assembling a Scrum team, you no longer need managers?

Department Manager






There will likely be some exceptions, but in most cases, organizations will be able to accelerate their adoption of new processes that ultimately shape their new culture IF they pay attention to their management approach through this process of change. Many organizations that I have worked with fail to invest enough energy into supporting their middle management capabilities, which can cause problems such as:

1.    Active resistance to change – Assertive opposition to new processes or approaches
2.    Passive resistance to change – Quiet indifference or lack of encouragement to team members during the change
3.    Ineffective support for change – Acceptance of the change but not having the support or strategic sponsorship to endorse change

Adoption of Agile, at its core, is about culture change, and such a change is extremely difficult to execute successfully if the management team does not provide adequate support.

So, what does “adequate support” look like? What does that mean?

Middle management, including Department Managers, play a critical part to adoption of new processes because they are the ones who reinforce the new ways of working. They need to be champions in the change process in order for employees to feel safe and confident in changing how they work.

Why do we need to establish some level of psychological safety? Because it is inherent in all that we do! Employees are unlikely to do something new that will likely reduce their productivity and/or increase the occurrences of failures unless they know WITHOUT DOUBT that they will NOT be penalized as a result of doing work in a new way. Management’s role is to provide guidance, security, and empower employees to make a few mistakes, but learn from those mistakes!

In short, middle management has a key role to play in any cultural movement; one may argue that this is where the battle is “won or lost.” If you desire to adopt Agile within your organization, you might take a look at how your middle management team can become evangelists to help you in this challenging journey ahead.