Scrum and other agile methodologies prescribe specific roles. The success of these frameworks are dependent on how close they are performed to its intention and how well the person/people in that role executes. However these roles do not exist in a vacuum and there are more roles surrounding these within an organization. While some hampers further growth of the development groups mostly due to being in conflict with the prescribed roles, there are those the are very valuable.

As I see it, among the very valuable ones is Line Management. That is of course, with a different spin on the role. Not the command-and-control, patriarchal type of relationship with subordinates. But more a nurturing, servant leadership kind. My buddy, James, calls it catalyst leadership. I often refer to it as modern management. Some will argue it’s a reinvention. Perhaps it’s an emphasis on a few aspects while a detachment to a few others.

Most Agile Frameworks refer to teams as the atomic unit. The team will take care of the individuals within the team. Peer support and peer pressure work marvelously. However, for the individual in that atomic unit, this is not enough. I don’t expect teams to heavily be involved in career management of the individuals in an organizational context. There is great value in having organizational representative to pay particular attention to the needs, growth, and development of each individual. Someone also has to act in behalf of the company when issues arising from a particular individual goes beyond what the team can handle.

The nurturing kind of line management that I am putting forth is mainly dwelling on the people management aspect of the role. This is heavily influenced by Douglas McGregor’s Theory Y and Toyota’s “manager as coach” ideas. And as previously mentioned, a detachment is deliberately made on two things. First, is not be a decision-maker for how work is to be done by the employee. This removes the contradiction regarding the self-management principle behind agile methods. And the other, being manager as performance appraiser for the individual.

There is a big body of work already available with regard to invalidating the effectiveness of individual performance appraisals the way they are conducted traditionally. I would recommend Tom Coens and Mary Jenkin’s book as a starting point for further exploration on that matter. With that in mind, the line manager’s role to be effective now means not doing traditional performance appraisals for the people assigned to them per se, but to make sure they gather the appropriate performance reviews of the individual from people they work with and work for. This disconnects them from being the judge, and makes them more of a coach looking at the data with the employee, and looking for actions to move him/her forward. This may include planning for development programs, a re-assignment for better fit of talent and skills, or in a more negative scenario, agreeing that it is not working out for the employee and the company. They are in charge of making sure the individuals have access to all the coaching and resources needed for them to develop and provide the best value they can to the company. And to that last point, they retain the administrative responsibility to let go of the individual if it’s not the right fit after all the effort to make it so.

Line Manager is like a Gardener

A line manager now is like a gardener. Making sure all the things that will help develop their employees are there. Making sure the right amount of resources are available and accessible. Like regularly watering plants, consistent attention to employees becomes necessary. Whether it be for encouragement, feedback, or ventilation. Like removing weeds, line managers look at impediments that stops the growth of the individuals and do something about it. As a gardener makes sure the plants live in harmony with other plants and the garden itself, the manager consistently look at the appropriateness of the current placement where the employee is in. But like plants in the garden, managers won’t really be able to predict how the employees will respond and grow amid all this. Some employees will flourish. Others need some trimming, in keeping with the analogy. While others just not fit the garden.

In my next post, I will list down things that I believe line managers should regularly keep track of as they embrace this role in an agile environment.

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Mike Mallete



Agile Coaching in the Asia Pacific

Thoughts and ideas of Mike Mallete - Agile Coach, Trainer, and Software Developer

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