The Functional Manager in Agile

When doing an Agile transformation it’s generally easy to get team members on board with what we’re trying to achieve. Most people appreciate the opportunity to become empowered and to have a better understanding of the business goals they’re supporting. The improved communication with “the business side” of the organization helps team members to feel more a part of the company as a whole. They start to really own their responsibility of adding business value rather than developing code.

Likewise, senior executives generally buy into Agile quickly. They may not understand all the benefits they can achieve, but they’ve seen enough to know that Agile projects are generally more successful than traditional projects. They want to reap the benefits of that success so they encourage a transformation.

Unfortunately the functional manager is often caught in the middle of this transformation. Things are changing and they aren’t really sure of their role or the benefits they will see in their own jobs It has taken me a while to understand this because I’ve always functionally managed in a way very compatible with Agile methods. I’ve never liked working in a strong command and control environment so I’ve always resisted creating one for the people who work for me.

The Agile functional manager is no longer responsible for work product. That comes from the team and it holds itself responsible. Similarly, the Agile functional manager doesn’t task people. The team assigns itself tasks as it completes the User Stories that are in the backlog. So what does the Agile functional manager do?

Simply put, the Agile functional manager assures his or her team can achieve everything they set out to achieve. Depending on your personality and your strengths this can take different forms. In an Agile organization you should be able to find the approach that works best for you.

If you’re more people oriented you can be the coach and mentor for the people who report to you. Agile teams need highly skilled team members. As a functional manager you can help your reports see where they have weaknesses. You can provide instruction or help the report find the training they need. You can champion training to senior management to further empower and grow your team. You can attend events that help you understand what your teams need to grow and how to provide it to them.

The technically minded functional manager can focus on the high-level issues that cross Agile teams. You might identify and help mitigate cross-team risks. You might look for architectural changes that will improve the velocity or quality of your teams. You might evaluate or recommend third party products or tools your team works with. You might also create tools or integrations that help your team work more effectively.  If you’re interested in new technologies you might help chart the technical strategy based on the overall business vision of the organization.

If you’re one of the few technical managers who really liked doing reports and reviews, the Project Management Office will still need your help. You can continue to do the reporting and documentation of performance that keeps the organization running, and maybe help them find more efficient ways to accomplish their goals.

You should see the transformation to Agile as an opportunity to focus on the part of your job that you really like or are best at.  The Agile organization gives everyone a chance to do what they do best. That includes the functional manager.

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