Sensing and increasing manager engagement during an agile change initiative – guest post by Yaki Koren

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Earlier this week I published a guest post about how managers need to change if they want agile to succeed by Yaki Koren. Some blog/twitter followers asked for elaboration and Yaki was gracious enough to comply. I suspect the fact that this is a really hot topic for him this week helped. Without further a due, here is Yaki with some explanations of what the coaching team in his organization does to sense and increase manager engagement in order to improve agile change depth and stickiness… (Note Yaki doesn’t emphasize it but we are talking about a Kanban Method style of change initiative here which affects the kind of activities going on).
I was asked after the earlier post how do we engage managers and making sure they captain the ship. Here is a try to explain what we do (or at least what think we should be doing and when we do it, it works well).

As we are internal consultants it is quite easy to engage us – there are almost no bureaucratic barriers. We have developed a few techniques to protect managers from harming themselves by going down a dangerous path (for them).

As mentioned above we realized that a key success factor for agile implementation is a manager’s willingness to captain the ship. So the first thing we make sure is that the manager contacts us and not the other way around. We may do marketing, we may do an elevator pitch but the manager should call us, the manager should set the meeting. It’s a “call us, we don’t call you” thing. At the meeting we let the manager run it, state their need etc.

We keep doing this all through our engagement with the manager. We are making sure someone is pulling us and no pushing is done. When they stop pulling we, again, may do marketing and may encourage them but they need to take the action. If it’s not important enough for them they won’t do the action.

So, many times there are initial calls that die off and there may be a session or two and then it dies. It better die early when not too much damage was done.

Our main problem are cases where for some reason the process did start to actually run and the group moved to Kanban and then they stop pulling. These are sad cases with bad public relations, though I must say that even then it usually works better than the alternative.

Another thing we do when starting is asking the manager to budget us. We didn’t do this initially (we got the budget from top management) and when you don’t pay you sometimes don’t care. So now we’re asking for some budget, usually higher than what we actually need – and this proves to be a good test for the manager, another sanity check for their willingness to invest in the change.

When they lead it and agree to budget us we make sure they understand what are the big challenges they are going to face:

· Progress monitoring is quite different than what they’re used to – we tell them they will feel a loss of control at the beginning

· They need to invest more in day to day management – less status reviews and more execution (some managers don’t understand it: for them the change is easy)

· The process of work will keep changing. There is no winning formula we can give them – They will start with something and need to constantly adapt. It’s not a one-time bang thing. I should write a post on this aspect.

Since our organization is big sometimes we are not contacted by the person we believe is the one who should actually lead the change. Sometimes it may be a subordinate, their manager or even a peer. So they may set the meeting, they may even budget us but still we need the person who should lead this to actually show they’re serious.

This is more tricky.

You may find yourself in a room with a person whose manager asked him to do the change and the manager is not there at all. If they are not interested you are trapped. Suddenly it is you that wants this and you may find yourself pushing instead of being pulled.

What we do (or more accurately “try to do, really want to do, plan to do and sometimes it actually works”) is again to make sure this person wants it. We sit there, quietly. Many times they will expect us to lead this – however this is not ours to lead, right? So we may ask politely how can we help. You will get a deep frown doing this. And, by the way, it is fine if they tell you they’re there because their boss told them to. Then you need to understand together what is it they’re boss wants them to do. If they don’t understand why they’re there they need to get back to whoever arranged this to understand the reason.

Many times we have sessions with the project team. I like being in the center of things, giving a great performance, but it seems to be much more effective if the manager does this. I need to fight my ego and then do a good preparation with the manager (after explaining why they should do it) for the session. The more the managers lead the more effective it will be.

When we start the process we sometimes find we are becoming part of the operation. To avoid this we make sure we don’t attend all project meetings on purpose, we make sure nothing is dependent on us. This is the team’s thing, not ours. We are there to help, not do some of the job. Again, it is very tempting to do it – create the excel, lead the session, build the board – but every time we do this we skip a learning opportunity for the project team and increase their dependency on us. It is a matter of empowerment.

I believe there is more stuff but these are our main techniques for making sure only managers who are apt for the move to agile actually do it and when they do it to make it their thing, not ours.

One thought on “Sensing and increasing manager engagement during an agile change initiative – guest post by Yaki Koren

  1. ixhd

    Excellent follow up, Thank you. Agree and like your points on your the to have managers pull from you and on not becoming those who do the job


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