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If We’re Agile, Why Do We Need Managers?

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A common misconception about agile is that managers are unnecessary. After all, agile is based on self-organizing teams. If the teams organize themselves, what do managers do?

Unfortunately, most scrum training plays into that. Think about it: how many trainers or coaches have you seen sketch the structure of a scrum team with a drawing that includes a manager? While there’s always a scrum master and a product owner, the core team and maybe some stakeholders, have you ever seen a manager in that drawing?

This misconception can be a problem all around: A frequently cited barrier to agile adoption is managers who don’t know what to do when their teams become self-managing. When they’re not included in training, how would they (or anyone else, for that matter) know how to characterize their role. At the same time, organizations often lay down expectations of managers, some compatible with agile, some not.

Agile has shifted the old roles and responsibilities. Managers bent on command-and-control are clearly a barrier to agile adoption. But managers who take a hands-off approach or are treading water in a sea of ambiguity will almost certainly stymie adoption, as well.

Ron Lichty believes (and so do a lot of the early agile thought leaders) that managers have critical roles to play in enabling success, both of transitions to agile and of agile itself. This session is about those roles.

About the presenter:

RonLichtyRon Lichty has been alternating between consulting with and managing software development and product organizations for 25 years, almost all of those spent untangling the knots in software development and transforming chaos to clarity, the last 15 of those in the era of Agile. Originally a programmer, he earned several patents and wrote two popular programming books before being hired into his first management role by Apple Computer, which nurtured his managerial growth in both development and product management roles.

Principal and owner of Ron Lichty Consulting, Inc. (www.RonLichty.com), he has trained teams in Scrum, transitioned teams from waterfall and iterative methodologies to agile, coached teams already using agile to make their software development “hum”, and trained managers in managing software people and teams. In his continued search for effective best practices, Ron co-authors the annual Study of Product Team Performance (http://www.ronlichty.com/study.html).

Ron’s most recent book is Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams – http://www.ManagingTheUnmanageable.net – co-authored with Pixar and Gracenote CTO Mickey W. Mantle. Published by Addison Wesley, it has been compared by reviewers to software development classics, The Mythical Man-Month and Peopleware.

Ron has repeatedly been brought in as an acting CTO and interim vice president of engineering to solve development team challenges. During Ron’s first three years at Charles Schwab, he led software development of the first investor tools on Schwab.com, playing a role in transforming the bricks-and-mortar discount brokerage into a premier name in online financial services. He was promoted to Schwab vice president while leading his CIO’s three-year technology initiative to migrate software development from any-language-goes to a single, cost-effective platform company-wide and nurturing Schwab’s nascent efforts to leverage early Agile approaches. He has led products and development across a wide range of domains for companies of all sizes, from startups to the Fortune 500, including Fujitsu, Razorfish, Stanford, and Apple.

Ron has been an adviser to a half-dozen start-ups. He co-chaired SVForum’s Engineering Leadership SIG; founded its Software Architecture SIG; chaired its Emerging Technology SIG and the East Bay Innovation Group’s Software Management Best Practices SIG; and was a board member of SVForum, Silicon Valley’s largest and oldest developer organization.

Ron’s developer conference and professional group talks and webinars include managing software people and teams; transforming software development from chaos to clarity; facing down the challenges of implementing agile and scrum; the critical roles managers play whose teams have gone agile; what it takes for product managers to bond with their teams; and the importance of collaboration, teamwork and community in software development.

Ron has cross-country skied nine marathons with Team in Training and fulfilled a goal to raise $100,000 to cure leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma and support cancer patients and their families.


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