The Gorilla Manager’s Survival Guide to Going Agile

“What do you mean I have to wait until the end of the sprint for a report?”

John gave a nod. “Uh huh, when we do the Sprint Review we’ll be have the Feature burn down charts, as well as demos of what’s been built and a report on any technical impediments.”

“But that’s not until the end of next week, I need to brief the VP on where Project Myrmidon stands.”

John looked truly apologetic. “I don’t have anything to report until the sprint is over. You’ve got the reports for the last two sprints and you know what we committed to for this sprint. Until we’re done, I can’t compile the external report. I’d just being making up a report right now, is that what you want?”

I sighed. “No, of course not.” In reality I did want him to make something up. I didn’t want to tell the VP he had to wait another week and a half to get his status report. The VP was scary and I didn’t like explaining to him why he had to wait for anything, even if it was the way the process worked. He was the kind of guy who didn’t want to wait for anything. He would say jump and expected you to phone him from orbit to ask if that was a high enough jump.

“Need anything else?” John’s question cut into my self misery. He was standing patiently in front of my desk. When I looked up at him he said, “Remember, I need to leave early today?”

I waved at him, “Oh, right. Go ahead.” John left me alone with my thoughts. This was the fourth time in two weeks he’s left early. I wondered if anything is wrong.

“He’s taking a Community Emergency Response training class. He wants to be more active in the community.” Hogarth’s deep voice cut through my thoughts and derailed the train I’d been on. The gorilla lumbered into the room, pausing only briefly to snap a branch off my fichus before he continued on to perch in the sun drenched window ledge.

“How do you know that?” I asked.

Hogarth shook his head, “Gorilla secret. Besides you’d know to if you were paying as much attention to your team as you do to your precious status reports.”

I glared at Hogarth. “What do you mean? I see my people every day. I know what’s going on with every project and where all the risks are. How can you say I’m not paying attention?” I waved out the door, “Heck the real problem is this damned agile roll out. Ever since it got going I have no idea what’s going on. Jake and I were just complaining about it over lunch. We don’t have the same control we used to, it’s driving us mad.”

“And yet you don’t know that Molly is engaged, Max at war with IT and John was taking CERT training.”

I blinked at Hogarth. “You mean I, like, have to talk to them ?” I felt a cold shudder run down my spine at the very thought of it.

Hogarth pointed the denuded fichus branch in my direction. “Let me ask you this. What reports to you, projects or people ?”

I stared at him like he’d just grown a second head. “What kind of question is that? Of course I have people reporting to me…” I closed my mouth with a snap.

“Oh…”

 

Good Managers make for Good Agile

Management has been the butt of jokes, derision and scorn pretty much since some Mesopotamian chieftain delegated a cattle raid to his incompetent son while briefing his best warrior to keep his son out of danger and really get the job done. For the butt of all the jokes it has been, Management has also been where many of the worlds greatest leaders have risen from. The Duke of Marlborough, the Duke of Wellington, General/ President Charles de Gaulle and General/President Dwight Eisenhower all came out of “middle management” positions and went on to help change the face of the world for their time.

Whether you love or hate management, whether you think agile/ lean will do away with management, the reality is right now management is still a pervasive part of our world. This means some fairly important things.

– Adoption of new ways of doing business is going to be a lot more successful with management support.
– Managers need to learn how to work in the agile/lean world.
– The previous two bullets are inexorably linked together.

In short, managers need to learn how to work with their people again. It is through helping the team that we will all succeed. Stop focusing on the work and focus on the people doing the work. Through this can managers become a key to making a better world.

Psst… That was the passionate call to action part.

Okay, great speech. Rah, rah, rah. But speeches don’t make change.

No, no they don’t. Which means you actually have to do something.

And now for the practical tools to rise to the call.

Enter Manager Tools
Manger Tools is a website, a series of podcasts and a very dedicated group of people. When I look back on how I made the shift from drone worker to change agent and leader I can point to two defining moments. One was taking a CSM course and finally “getting” agile. The other was discovering the Manager Tools podcasts.

Focused on the principles of being effective and giving actionable advice, the Manager Tools podcasts have helped me put my career on track, to be a better manager and I think to be a better person. The principles and lessons of Manager Tools helped to form my own personal belief that if you help individuals be more effective, they will help make a better team. A better team makes for a better project and a better project makes for a better product. Better products will lead to better businesses and I businesses built on these foundations will help lead us to a better world.

Now with over 500 podcasts, years of blog posts, and a huge community forum it can be daunting to know where to start. Fortunately, Manager Tools has this covered. I also have some additional MT podcasts that I highly recommend as critical must listens.

The Manager Tools Trinity:
In true Douglas Adams fashion, the trinity is made up of four components. It really did start out as a trinity at one time. Coaching became part of the mix a few years back and I think these days the people at Manager Tools tend to refer to this as the “basics.” One thing basic about them, is how basic it is to pick them up and start using them. For ease of listening, Manager Tools has bundled around 20 podcasts into a special “Manager Tools Basic” feed. It contains their core starting points, including the Trinity (all four parts).

 

One on Ones: Two key secrets sauces at play here. 1- Meeting with your directs once a week, like clockwork. If there is a conflict, reschedule. Do everything you can to hold it. 2- The format is ten, ten, ten. The first ten minutes is the direct talking about whatever they want. The second ten is the manager asking questions he wants answers to. The last ten minutes are to future development. Project Managers- You can use O3s as well. It just takes a couple of minor changes to make it a perfect meeting for working with your project team.

The Feedback Model: The Manager Tool’s Feedback is a lot like a one shot agile retrospective. It allows the manager to identify behaviors (good and bad) and provide a response to that behaviors impact. The most powerful part of the Feedback Model is it doesn’t look to correct what has happened. Like a good retrospective, feedback is looking forward to how things can be done better in the future. Encouragement, not punishment. Project Managers- There is a modified version of this that can work with your project team.

Delegating: We’re terrible at delegating. We don’t do it well. We often delegate the wrong things. We often (very often) don’t let go when we delegate. In short, we end up strung out over a massive string of responsibilities and create all sorts of problems, not the least of which is being a single point of failure. Let us not forget the great Dilbert wisdom of “If you make yourself irreplaceable you will never get promoted.”

Coaching: Yes, that’s right, managers should be coaches to the people on their teams. Mark Hortsman, of Manager Tools, says that one of the greatest signs of a successful manager is that he gets his people promoted. Helping your team grow, learn and prosper is a vital part to being a good manager. And like good coaches, the goal is not to lead or drive them there, it is to make the possibilities possible.

Jump Starting Internal Customer Relationships : This two part podcast is a must listen for anyone joining a new company, new department or new project. This is one of my first go to actions when brought in on a failing project. Few would argue against syncing up with your stakeholders. The Internal Customer Interview process takes this to the next level by giving you a standardized format and set of questions to ask all your stakeholders. Through the repetition of the same questions you create quantitative view of the situation.

The DISC Model in action: DISC is a quadrant based behavioral model. Having used it for several years now I can attest to it being a model that actually works as opposed to being a money maker for “specialists” who come in to “fix” your organization. You can get a full assessment online for about $30. Manager Tools has over thirty podcasts devoted to interacting with people based on the DISC system. Hands down this has been one of the most valuable tools I’ve picked up from Manager-Tools.

 

In conclusion, this is one series of podcasts that is worth going back to episode one and listening to them all. It didn’t just help my career, it gave it purpose.

Better people, better projects, better world.