To become agile managers must think agile

Many agile transformations are still failing. The main reason that I see is that agile is not adopted at the top: the mindset and culture doesn’t change which inhibits agile adoption in the whole organization. We need agile thinking managers, and we need them now!

I have seen organization struggle with agile adoption many times. But I have also seen similar problems when organizations used Waterfall, RUP, CMMI, PMBoK, EFQM etc. The cause of the struggle is not the method or framework that is used, but how it is introduced and implemented into the organization.

It comes down to giving space to employees to truly understand and improve their way of working by themselves in stead of telling them what to do. Manager thinking has to change first, before this can happen.

No silver bullet

Unfortunately there are organizations (mainly large ones) that treat agile like a silver bullet. The way that they are introducing agile isn’t agile at all, which makes the agile transformation fail.

For instance:

  • They introduce agile top down, telling employees to become self-organizing. But often do not provide the means or information that people need to decide and organize their work.
  • They tell employees that they should work more closely together with the customers. But they do not give teams access to customers and do not stimulate feedback or share information themselves.
  • They train their employees in the basics of Scrum: Process, roles, and rituals. But courses to improve communication skills, to give and received feedback, or to be able to analyse how they work and improve it are not approved when requested by their employees.

Agile thinking managers

For most organization it appears that to become agile they will need a change in culture and mindset. They need a different kind of thinking which has to start at the top. Senior management, followed by middle management, needs to start thinking agile.

This agile thinking is characterized by:

  • You have to know why you want to become agile. Really understand what you want to get out of it.
  • People and how they collaborate matters to get results; give space to your employees
  • Collaboration needs a culture where people are not afraid to share information: stop blaming people
  • If you want things to improve, then you have to embrace change and not dictate it

Managers have to be an example and start thinking agile. They have to adopt an agile mindset, and giving room for others to do the same. Guess what, those two are tightly connected. If a managers really adopts agile then they will treat their employees differently.

You can’t expect your employees to become agile if you as a manager don’t see the value. And the best way to learn about the value is to change your own mindset and start thinking and acting agile. You, as a manager, have to go first.

Food for thought

Here are a couple of books that can inspire you to start thinking in a agile way:

My suggestion is to read them or (if you’re an agile coach) ask the managers that you work with to read them.

To make software development (or anything else) succeed you need people with the mindset. This is something that you can develop, it takes time and money, but it is well worth it!


Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

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