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Transforming a Traditional Manager Into an Agile Manager

by Darian Rashid 24. May 2010 09:14

Series: Agile Roles and Responsibilities Series

Many pundits preach that the agile organization will not have managers – that teams will self-manage and can carry out all responsibilities of traditional functional management. This includes HR responsibilities, major conflict disputes, etc. “The team is self-managing, which includes all management responsibilities,” or so I keep hearing. Call me a heretic, but I’ve never subscribed to the scalability of this model. For most large-scale (esp. global) organizations, this is not a reality. Not only are functional managers not going anywhere, but they are, in-fact, essential to an organization’s transformation to Agile practices. However, their roles will need to change. Whether they embrace or reject this change could mean the difference between success and failure going forward.

To highlight the differences, let’s lay out the major responsibilities of a traditional functional manager:

  1. Handle HR functions (e.g., Hire and fire/lay off, harassment, physical violence, larger-scale verbal assaults, etc.)
  2. Champion causes/break down barriers
  3. Maintain standards (quality, technical, ethical ) across the different teams
  4. Develop employees technical and other necessary skills
  5. Create, manage and restructure cross-functional resources
  6. Execute performance evaluations
  7. Set up work processes (esp. for their team)
  8. Break down and assign tasks
  9. Project manage the team (usually with a gigantic Gantt chart and a weekly status meeting)
  10. Be responsible for the team’s commitment and deliverables

(I’m sure I could have listed another 20 responsibilities but I tried to focus on the top 10. If you feel there are important responsibilities I didn’t cover and a through on whether an Agile manager will retain or relinquish them, please feel free to list them in the comments.)

So what in this list changes? That can be answered by the overarching mental model: The Agile management (as a whole)’s mission is: To do what needs to be done to create an innovative, flexible and continuously-improving environment that will allow teams and Product Owners to succeed. This means creating an organization that is capable of executing Product Backlog changes at any time (including at the 11th hour) as efficiently and with the highest quality possible.

To accomplish this, Agile Managers would still handle responsibilities 1 through 4 - traditional HR functions, develop employees, set up and maintain standards (optionally with the help of Agile technical leads) but will hand over the their project and process management responsibilities (given in steps 7-10) to the ScrumMasters (if practicing Scrum) and feature teams.

But why give up those traditional responsibilities of ownership, assignment and management of tasks? Several reasons come to mind (feel free to add to or contest these):

  • Allows the team to own their commitment, and just as important, own it as a team
  • Allows the team to focus on the greater iteration goals instead of just their individual tasks
  • Empowers them to self-improving

Many managers are concerned this hand-off of responsibilities diminishes their role. I feel it is quite the opposite - that it focuses their role and elevates it to a more strategic level. Instead of being consumed by tasks that teams are perfectly capable of performing themselves (albeit, teams usually need help at first), Agile Managers will now work as a group to see which changes need to happen organizationally – those that we never saw before or saw but were too busy (or un-empowered) to do anything about. This change will let them focus on:

  • Setting up and managing cross-functional teams
  • Creating and managing needed infrastructure (e.g., testing platforms, continuous integration, etc.)*
  • Break down organizational barriers, usually raised by ScrumMasters and teams through Daily Scrums and Retrospectives or similar events
  • Create and manage technical standards across the organization (with the help of teams and technical leads)
  • Creating, training and supporting change agents (e.g., ScrumMasters) within the organization

*Note: I don’t mean to imply that the managers code the infrastructure themselves (although, they are free to do so if they want). I just mean they will look at the largest gaps and create internal teams to work on them as needed.

Item 5 deals with the creation, allocation and evaluation as teams. The Agile Manager still own this responsibility but performs it very differently than they would have traditionally. They don’t design the organization by architecture, layer or component (e.g., the GUI team, OS team, driver team, database team, etc.) but rather by vertical features. Additionally, a set of Agile Line Managers should treat all resources reporting to them collectively as a pool of resources where teams can be “pulled” from, instead of individual resource ownership. This means that Agile Managers will collaboratively assemble the best teams for a group of features and not just have teams by virtue of reporting structure. (I will follow this up with a deeper post on this topic).

Last in the list is item 6, which, like item 4, is also a transformed activity owned by managers. Managers are still responsible to perform evaluations but they will do this based primarily on the team’s performance rather than an individual. It is also a great practice to do this as a team of managers, instead of individual evaluations. (We’ll debate the right performance measures as well as the idea of abolishing performance reviews on another post).

Finally, it is up to the managers as a whole to set the culture to continuously improve and continuously experiment to do so. An Agile manager’s motto should be “It’s OK to Fail”, as long as we do it fast and learn from it toward the right goal. They know that the phrase “I don’t know” is a much better phrase than an uncertain answer based in no data or reality given because one is expected.

The fact is that Managers make or block Agile transformations. There is a lot of talk of top-down leadership and bottom-up push but the managers connect these domains. They are the ones that can greatly accelerate or critically hinder a transformation. Which camp are your managers in?

ScrumMasters are Change Agents

by Darian Rashid 18. May 2010 16:31

Series: Agile Roles and Responsibilities Series

Anyone who knows me knows that I love ScrumMasters.  My family had to get used to the idea of being second in line, but they’ll get over it.  Why the love affair? Simple.  They are the organization’s change agents!  Their #1 role is to continuously create positive changes.  (FYI, if you thought that the role of the ScrumMasters is to be a simple project manager or task-master, read this first: ScrumMasters are not Task Masters)

They create positive change by:

  • Setting up, owning and upholding the process of Scrum
  • Ensuring that the process is followed by all
  • Identifying, escalating and having barriers broken (this doesn’t mean they necessarily do the breaking)
  • Teaching the process of Scrum to all parties
  • Working with Product Owners, managers and the development team (including architects, testers, etc.) to evolve the organization
  • Leading a team to increase their productivity (velocity)
  • Facilitate the roles within the organization to work efficiently, effectively and most importantly, together
  • Being enablers, problem solvers, and more…

The amazing thing is that the ScrumMaster role doesn’t call for any managerial authority over the team, Product Owners or other managers.    They lead by influence, not by authority.

Although SMs are an essential part of the team, they are not wholly devoted to just their team.  This means although the SM belongs to the team, they are not just there for the team.  If the SM is doing their job correctly and efficiently, they are working 1/3 of their time with the team to deal with team issues, break barrier, 1/3 of their time hand-in-hand with POs and 1/3 of their time with Management.   So with all this, when do they have time to code?  In my humblest of opinions, they don’t .  The ScrumMaster is a full-time role – but before you jump all over me, that is a different post and discussion.

When a team is newly formed, this balance will be shifted more toward the team but over time, new teams will be comprised of members that have done this before and not need to take so much start-up equity from the SM.   So, what are SMs doing with each of these three roles?  Helping them meet their goals. Removing barriers when possible and escalating barriers when appropriate.  Installing, teaching, upholding, and most importantly, evolving the process of Scrum within the organization toward the very concrete goal of reducing defects and increasing velocity (in that order) for the organization collectively (starting with their team).  This means working with the POs to complete the release plan, working with teams on iteration planning, reviews and retrospectives and working with management on what they need to do: Transform the organization into an agile organization that can move to the beat of the Product Owner (Yet another post). 

This, however, does NOT mean that SMs project manage.  The teams and Product Owners need to do that themselves. The ScrumMasters are ensuring that the release and iteration plans are being set up and helping evolve the process, not doing that work for the team.

I could write a book on the topic so forgive me if this bite size morsel is leaving you in want.  I will be filling in many of the gaps in future posts.  As always, I look forward to your comments.

Does Testing Add Value?

by Darian Rashid 13. April 2010 16:21

One question I am often asked is “Does testing add value?” Many people who ask this question are development or Q/A managers who are trying to figure out how testing fits within an agile environment. My simple answer is: “No, it does not.” 

Now, before you get all half-cocked, I am not saying we should ship a product that is hanging together by dental floss. I am definitely not saying let’s just throw in more and more features and leave less time and resources to maximizing quality. I mean quite the contrary.

When I say testing has no value, I mean the time it takes to test a product doesn't add value to the end customer. Value, by this definition is "something that takes the form, feature or function that the customer is willing to pay for." Customers don't want to pay for testing. They want to pay for a high-quality product. To illustrate, let’s look at two different ways to develop a product:

1. Big bang approach: Spend a lot of time building and ignoring defects along the way because they will be addressed in the 'Testing' phase. Defects pile up, get more and more complex and worse, get more and more buried. The engineers/developers then, need to go in and spend most of their time finding the defects before fixing them. This is a lot of time and cost that has to be built into the cost of the product. This doesn’t even take into consideration the inefficiencies of bouncing the defect between the Q/A group and development groups. Customers pay for this necessary step but it adds no value to them. A good amount of the cost and time of finding and fixing the defects could have been avoided.

2. Alternatively, a savvy organization will adopt practices to build integrity into the product and test as you go in small batches. In fact, they will develop requirements AS test cases. The developers build to those test cases, which are objectively measurable and testable as you go. In essence, the developers allow the testing to drive development, not the other way around. This, of course, is the philosophy of test-driven development. The idea here is to build small, high-quality slices of the product and then integrate it in as soon as possible. Part of this continuous integration involves testing the whole as you go. If defects appear, they will most likely be caused by the latest addition. If this latest piece is small, the defect can be found and resolved easily.

A further step would be to avoid creating as many defects as possible by using best practices and quality principles during development. One more tool would be to borrow the concept of a 'WIP Cap' from Lean. This means that if we reach a set number of open defects in our database during development (usually 5 or less), we all stop, fix them and move on. It is much more efficient to fix them now than later when the product is more complex.

The second approach exposes problems in hours and days, not months later when different components are completed independently and finally integrated. It will create a higher quality product with severely reduced time in the end and thus cost and time to market because teams don't have to find and fix all these hidden defects that were created by ignoring them along the way. This is more valuable to the customer because they are spending most of their money on creation of features, not on finding hidden defects. Of course, even this approach will not be a 100% bug-free but industry metrics have shown defects to drop as much as 80% in a development life-cycle.

So is testing valuable to the customer? Still no. Is it necessary? Absolutely. However, by using good quality practices to build integrity in, let testing drive development, integrate in small slices and test as you go, the time and effort to test will drastically reduce creating a much more efficient development group.

Tags: ,
Categories: Agile Testing | Organizational Structure | Process | Technical Skills | Vertical Slicing

Q/A is Part of the Team

by Darian Rashid 8. April 2010 07:04

It is almost guaranteed that when I work with new organizations, one of the first questions that comes up is “How does the development organization work with the Q/A organization?” This question is a stinker. A seemingly simple question actually is pointing out much deeper organizational issues that go beyond testers to how we see all roles within an Agile environment.

That question usually indicates that most managers are trying to force-fit Agile methodologies into the old organizational structure. This is not just inefficient, it is detrimental. When thinking about moving to an Agile framework, an organization must consider what we are delivering and how. Practicing Agile means delivering small, vertical slices of the product every iteration. Vertical in this case means a slice that encompasses a feature from the customer-visible front-end to the back-end and everything in between. 

The key mental sound bite here is that a slice isn’t done until the customer sings (with joy and praise, that is). To be done with a vertical slice, it needs to be developed, integrated and the whole product (up to that point) tested. To say a slice is done, means it is usable by the customer and is as close to shippable condition as possible. (I will have future posts on how to use this model with mixed software and hardware development).

The most efficient way to accomplish this is to reform a team from component-based teams into vertical teams. A vertical team is made up of all resources I need to finish that vertical slice. This may mean a GUI developer, the business logic fellow, the database expert, the network security professional, etc. – whoever is needed to complete the feature in its entirety. This also means that a Q/A professional is a part of the team, working hand-in-hand to create a high-quality increment. Developing even a small chunk and then ‘throwing’ it over to a separate Q/A group will not yield the efficiencies that well-practiced Agile teams boast about.

With that said, keep in mind that the Q/A professional’s role changes within the team.  We don’t just want to put a tester with developers.  We don’t want to create a situation where developers throw completed items over a mini-wall to have tested.  Rather, the developers themselves will do as much of their own testing as possible.  The goal is to create a team that has powerful skills to deliver the highest quality product.  The Q/A professional will be responsible for ensuring all test cases for that iteration are defined, mentoring developers on building testing skills, including how to think about, write and execute test cases as well as helping the team automate as many test cases as possible.  Just as they teach the team how to test, the team will teach the tester how to do simple coding for the sake of test automation.

Last but certainly not least, an essential part of the vertical team is the Customer – or at least the best representation of the customer that we have internally, usually a Product Owner. Unlike someone who furnished a book of requirements, expects delivery many months later and wants no communication in-between, a Product owner works with the team(s) on requirements, is essential in breaking them down vertically and works side-by-side with the team during the iteration planning and reviews. Product Owners may not necessarily be co-located but will answer any questions asked by the team in a matter of hours, not days or weeks.

To be truly agile, you need to plan, think, build on a feature-by-feature basis. To accomplish this most efficiently and effectively, the team needs to be vertical – have all the resources that are necessary to complete the features within the team. This includes, developers, Q/A personnel, Product Owners, documentation, etc. Pets, however, are optional.

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Categories: Organizational Structure | Agile Testing | Technical Skills | Vertical Slicing | Process

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