Guest blog: Changing the organizational structure for agile

Adopting agile ways of working often impacts the organizational structure. In this guest blog post Shibabrata Mondal explores the impact and provides suggestions for changing the organizational structure to accommodate for agile. He also touches on the role of the functional manager in agile.

Agile assumes small self-organizing cross-functional teams that can make all decisions within the team. But, Agile does not tell us how such teams get created and attain the state of self organization. Possibly, it’s left out of the agile literature because it is too complex and would vary for each team and so it is hard to be very prescriptive. However, it is important that each team that is trying to adopt agile takes a serious look into this.

Here we will discuss some of the aspects that needs to be thought through, the team structure or some cultural changes that need to be instituted to suit agile, and the agile process itself that needs to be adapted to suit the team structure and culture.

Organizational structure

Currently large software companies are structured in a way that allows for cross functional teamwork only at higher levels in the hierarchy. The team members executing the projects are often at lower levels of hierarchy in the organization chart where they work isolated from other functions. Any decision that requires cross functional team work then needs to bubble up the org structure; the decision needs to be made; and then the decision needs to trickle down.

The current process deployed in these large companies assumes this organization structure and works with it. Sometimes, when trying to adopt agile, teams ignore the cross functional aspect of the scrum team and faces some expectation mismatch downstream.

Some companies create the cross functional project teams when they start adopting Scrum without undertaking any other organizational or people management process changes. This is done partly because of the local problem solving mindset with which agile is adopted.

Part of the reason for this is also that the idea of cross functional teams are not totally foreign to these companies. There are cases where cross functional teams are created to solve some burning issues. In some
companies these teams are called tiger teams . This somewhat familiarity causes more problems. If a company was fully unaware of cross functional teams, they would sit up and take notice and maybe think of how to make it work. But due to this somewhat familiarity, often teams embrace it without fully assessing the implications.

Tiger teams are typically temporary and works on high profile, high visibility, high impact tasks. Working in these tiger teams is different from perpetually working in cross functional teams in long running projects.

The call here is: do not sidestep this issue. It is important to take up this issue head on, analyze the current organization and culture, set attainable goals, and make a deliberate decision.

The role of the functional manager

The role of the manager is not well defined in Scrum. Large software companies using traditional project management had big roles for the functional managers in projects (in addition to the people management role).

Introduction of Scrum in these teams creates a confusion. Does the functional manager take up a new role or does the functional manager recede to a people-manager-only role?

It is important to have an open discussion at the onset to reduce uncertainties during the transition.

Note: A longer version of this blog is available at the Wizergos Blog.

Organizing for self organization

Thank you Shibabrata Mondal for sharing your insights and ideas on how agile impacts the organizational structure and the role of the functional manager in this guest blog post.

My (Ben Linders) opinion is that to truly adopt agile in a larger organization the culture and structure needs to change.

Agile teams are self organized.  Teams are empowered and able to decide what to do and how to do it. They don’t need managers to decide for them, which means that the way your organization is structured and managed will have  to change when you adopt agile.

In many organizations, “command and control” management is a common practice when they start implementing agile practices. Coaching a team to become self organized can be a challenge for Scrum masters, but it is key to make agile succeed.

To make an agile transition successful, agile has to be adopted at the top. The mindset and culture has to change to enable agile adoption in the whole organization. We need agile thinking managers.



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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Shalin

    Self organizations are more towards flatter structure. Flat organizations structures are self-driven and independent. Hierarchical structures have major managerial levels which controls everything.

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