The Scrum Guide doesn’t talk about the role of managers. So does that mean that one day we have managers, and then as soon as we begin an agile transformation, they suddenly disappear? Of course not. So what do we do with them? Many organizations use managers to direct the work of their reports so it could seem reasonable to assign these managers as Product Owners. I can see the logic in this, but a younger me would have opposed this with extreme prejudice. A younger me would use all my persuasive might emphasizing how this isn’t the right thing to do. But why? What’s wrong with it?
Managers in an agile shop. It’s an interesting—and sometimes controversial—topic. In fact, Andy Cleff and I collaborated in June on this. We go in depth in his blog post titled Managers and Agile and Riding an Elephant. Since I haven’t yet written about managers in an agile shop on my own blog, I wanted to summarize our conversation. I encourage you to read Andy’s article in full, if time permits.
First, I draw my inspiration from two places:
- Henrik Kniberg and the Spotify example. If you’re unfamiliar, don’t worry. I’ll be referring to and explaining the model in a bit. For more information, see Andy’s blog post.
- Leading Marines. I spent ten of the most formative years in the Marine Corps as an intelligence operative and martial arts instructor. I served as both a commissioned officer and as a non-commission officer, and I was fortunate to serve with some of the world’s greatest leaders.
Having said that, my philosophy is a very simple one:
There is no place for managers in an agile shop, only leaders, coaches, and mentors.