People before process – and what does it mean for agile manager?

Only recently I came across Jurgen Appelo’s blog and then I read his book “Agile Management 3.0”. I also went to his course and had some time to chat with him as I needed someone to talk about people management in agile context. Although his book goes even further than that and primarily focuses on complex/system theories or theory of everything 🙂  – since the guy is really ambitions, I did recognize someone with similar experience and similar ideas.

The thing that bothered me for so long was how many books, blogs and agile gurus are around repeating the same mantra about how agile is great, story points and similar stuff, and how few of them talk about real issues – related to managing people in agile environment. In the past few years I have read so many of the same thing (just in another format)  that I became sick of it. More over, I have start seeing more and more of agile bureaucrats – true reminder of a great idea first time I came across in the book “Crossing the Chasm”:

So, here we are, 10 years later, and plenty of late majority making fun of agile (by being so serious). So be it. Nothing to fight there, except to add few blogs like this one, written by early adopters and crazy people – that is who we are. That’s why I have started this blog and why my first blog was about people.

So, let’s go back to agile managers. Agile managers are responsible for creating environment in which people can perform, enjoy the work and create something of the value to the company and humanity (yes, no kidding). Agile folks know how to do their stuff, but sooner or later they need someone to talk to about their career, about their performance (although peer recognition is all that counts), about salaries, lousy coffee machine and so on. Agile managers also need to step in when things turn not so great, when arguments are too loud or when the team goes to extreme. Agile managers are service managers. Agile managers are not managing papers, specifications and roadmaps alone, agile managers must be good in people/soft skills. Not everyone is good at it and nobody is great in it – unless you read, try and ask for the feedback too.

So, here is my advice, take some books that talk about people management. I have already mentioned Jurgen’s book, it is great way to start, and I also recommend few more, such as “First, Break All the Rules”, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, “It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy”, books from Drucker and so on. Once you start reading, you will know where to go. Also, try to play some team sport, if you have never done it before, that helps too. Try to take some course in soft skills, there are quite few courses around,  it is not agile folks who invented a need to have motivated professionals.

Finally, I would recommend one simple model to start with, called DISC model {wikipedia}

The assessments classify four aspects of behavior by testing a person’s preferences in word associations:

  1. Dominance – relating to control, power and assertiveness
  2. Influence – relating to social situations and communication
  3. Steadiness – relating to patience, persistence, and thoughtfulness
  4. Conscientiousness – relating to structure and organization

People with high “D” are very active in dealing with problems and challenges, while low “D” scores are people who want to do more research before committing to a decision. People with high “I” scores influence others through talking and activity and tend to be emotional. Those with low “I” scores influence more by data and facts, and not with feelings. People with high “S” styles scores want a steady pace, security, and do not like sudden change. Low “S” intensity scores are those who like change and variety. Finally, people with high “C” styles adhere to rules, regulations, and structure. Those with low “C” scores challenge the rules and want independence and are described as self-willed, stubborn, opinionated, unsystematic, arbitrary, and unconcerned with details. {wikipedia}

For people who went this far in reading, here is the price – link to this great pdf file from my favorite blog – how to handle people from different groups in one simple schema, great stuff. If you find time, please listen to their podcasts too. By now, you should know how to manage Chuck Norris, no? Let me help you a little bit, he is for sure high D and  low S and C. So, here is a little test: how you tell Chuck Norris that his last change in the code has broken the build? Here is a little quiz and you need to select the right sentence:

  1. “Chuck, when you break the code like that, my test manager is so upset that he goes home right away and takes few pills to fight depression “
  2. “Chuck, when you break the code like that, the team thinks that you have no idea what you do and they even might think that you are such a loser”

One last warning, people are much more than mix of 4 letters, so  please don’t take shortcuts, always read, do, ask for the feedback, read, do, ask for the feedback… Hmmm, sounds like one of Jurgen’s models, just forgot which one, and I am sure I missed few steps, have hard time remembering any model that has more than 3 … But then again, I know the book is somewhere around, so let me check one more time.


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