Agile Manager – What is an Agile Manager?

I have worked with Agile Software Development for several years, and during all these years I´ve seen the same problem over and over again: very few companies understand what is an Agile Manager and his role inside of the organisation.

Most businesses out there still believe that Agile Managers are line managers and their primary function is to take care of people. “My primary job is to help my direct reports,” they say…

Hundred years ago two gentlemen called Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford completely changed the industry game. At that time society was stable, static and not dynamic. There was not much competition, and the markets were slow.

Companies could absorb the daily uncertainties of doing business in a better way using centralize and hierarchical organisations. At that time managers were the gatekeepers of all decisions and delegated the execution down to the workers. Taylor explained that an organization worked like a machine. Small parts connected with each other to create a bigger part.

These people were under the close supervision by their superiors who enforced compliance using punishments or extrinsic rewards. This period was called the manufacturing era. Unfortunately, this time,a still exists today.

We can observe this attitude in most of the existent companies in our society, but why do companies still have this approach?

I have been talking with a lot of managers, and they always tell me the same thing: “Workers need us because they are not mature to be left alone.” Now I must say this is quite funny 🙂 (ironically said). They are not mature. Follow my thought for some moments.

I work within the IT industry; this means I work with brilliant software engineers on the daily basis. Usually, these same software engineers have a masters degree or even a Ph.D. degree. These people are one of the smartest people in our society.

IT is an international environment, most of the times these are the people who moved away from their home country to a foreign country to try a better life. Usually these people do not speak the language of a foreign country, but still, they can manage the day to day life without a problem (most of the cases).

These guys, are the same guys that have house loans, raise kids and live an entirely normal life outside of their daily job. So do you think these guys cannot be left alone during working days because they are not mature enough?!

Our society is different than it was when Ford and Taylor took over. The pace of today’s society is unpredictably fast and chaotic. The predictability from other times is not present anymore. Today most of the jobs are in services, making most of today’s worker’s knowledge workers instead of manual, manufacturing workers.

Organisations must be fast, must innovate and must adapt to their customers´ needs. Decisions cannot be made in a convenient way anymore; this would be too slow and inefficient for companies. To solve the these problems, companies need to trust their employees allowing them to decide what is the best for the customer and helping them to solve their problems.

This requires companies to self-empower people and give them freedom to enable them to decide what is the best for the current environment. We still believe that people are immature, and they need a manager to approve vacations or help them with the next necessary training.

‘Theory X’ and ‘Theory Y’ are theories of human motivation and management. They were created and developed by Douglas McGregor at the MIT Sloan School of Management in the 1960s. These methods describe two contrasting models of the workforce motivation in Human Resource Management: organizational behavior, organizational communication, and organizational development. (original article here)

If you as a manager, manage people believing they will be lazy and immature, people will require someone to change their diapers or approve their vacations

On the other hand, if you treat people like grown ups believing they can manage their life and their work, you will get foreign workforces.

So what is your role as Agile Manager?

I want to be VERY CLEAR; I believe that managers have the best intentions in the world, and they want to help their employees. But if they want to help their guys they need to tackle THE SYSTEM, not people. There is a very powerful quote by W. Edwards Deming:

agile manager

Some years ago, I had the opinion that managers were just a waste for the organisation. Nowadays, my mind is a bit mature, and I realise how important the managers are. However, I want to make sure that you understand that their responsibility is to work in the system, not in people. Deming also said that 95% of organisations´ problems are within the system, and only 5% are related to people.

So what can I do as Agile Manager?

I believe that human beings can learn a lot from each other. Reading is one of the easiest ways. I believe there are hundreds of books out there that are great to help you in your daily job as a System Worker. However, I want to point out to three books I believe are mandatory for any manager who wants to improve the system.

I am sure when you read these books you will be so inspired to start working in the system that you will have problems where to start.

Now I want to give you some ideas what you can start with even without reading these books. If you are involved with Agile Software Development, you have a bunch of teams that come to you with outcomes of Agile Retrospectives that cannot be solved by their teams. This is a very simple way to start working with the system problems.

For example, if you apply Agile Portfolio Management, you might have an Enterprise Kanban Board where you can track what is going in the company. Things like flow, throughput, lead time, cycle time, the cost of delay, etc. are visible to everyone. You as a System worker should start talking with your colleagues and think how could you improve the system to deliver more value faster to your clients.

If you run Organisational Agile Retrospectives, several issues will be found in Agile Retrospectives. Who is better than Agile Managers to take care of those topics?

OIKOSOFY has been developing a tool to help Agile Managers to do their job. We have been working with some companies whom we contribute to ramp up Organisational Impediment Boards. These boards are tools for businesses to track significant problems that local teams cannot solve. Agile Managers´ responsibility is to get together with other managers and Senior Management and address these problems to create High Performing Organisations.

Below you can see a model that OIKOSOFY developed for our clients. This model shows the impediment board in the center of everything. A big part of Agile Managers´job is to get rid of the topics that are part of the board.

agile manager

I am sure I did not tackle all the possibilities of what an Agile Manager does on a daily basis, but I believe I guided all Agile Managers out there who want to improve and do impactful work on regular basis.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.

If you like this blog just click here, to tweet about it 🙂

All the best,


5 replies
  1. Andy
    Andy says:

    Just came across this – and it’s gold! The graphic is especially powerful and it could easily be modified for companies with multiple products. Thanks for sharing!

    • Luis Goncalves
      Luis Goncalves says:

      Hi Andy,

      Big thanks for your comment, this is something that we are developing. If you are interested we can book a call and I can explain better what we are doing…

      We are looking for companies that would be eager to try out this approach.



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  1. […] “Agile Manager – What is an Agile Manager?” – Business2Community I have worked with Agile Software Development for several years, and during all these years I´ve seen the same problem over and over again: very few companies understand what is an Agile Manager and his role inside of the organisation. Most companies out there still believe that Agile Managers are line managers and their main role is to take care of people. “My main job is to help my direct reports”, they say… Continue Reading […]

  2. […] good introduction into the way things were in manufacturing and the way things are now. In “Agile-Manager — What is an Agile Manager?” he goes back to the time of FORD to explain how things have […]

  3. […] I thought that I knew a lot and I could solve everything by myself together with all the Scrum Masters. I thought that would be enough to make the change. Unfortunately, I did not realise how important Agile Managers are to the success of organisational change. If you are curious about my definition of Agile Managers, sometime ago I wrote a blog post on that topic, the post can be found here. […]

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