The manager’s role in Agile software development

Software development team

The roles of a software development manager are numerous and too complex to explain in one post. However, there are two key roles in the waterfall model that are very visible in the organization and are missing in Agile. Managers create technical solutions for projects and direct the work of the team.

Contrarily, Agile software development teams do not need a manager documenting technical requirements and directing their work. These responsibilities lie with the team after a product manager has written a user story, which does not contain technical solutions.

  • The team grooms the user story.
  • The team estimates the effort of the user story.
  • The team creates tasks for the user story.
  • The team members choose their daily tasks from the board.
  • Along the way, the team finds technical solutions to the tasks.

Instead of these roles, the manager’s role in Agile is to setup the team for success. This includes:

  • Improving teamwork and assessing the team’s health.
  • Removing obstacles that are blocking or hindering the team’s ability to complete tasks, including but not limited to organizational impediments.
  • Coaching the team to find their own technical solutions.
  • Ensuring the team fails fast if they pursue incorrect or futile solutions.

What is lost: some control. What is gained: a team that is more self-directing allowing the manager to focus on managing humans.

Although “losing some control” sounds scary, it’s important to keep in mind that the manger isn’t losing control of the project or the team. In the spirit of a self-organizing team, the manger is losing some control over the solution process. Let the team discover its own technical insights as long as the team still reaches a correct solution (and remember there is more than 1 correct solution). The manager’s control is now exerted in the places that will make the team more efficient and self-sustaining. The “Give a man a fish…” proverb comes to mind, which can be adapted for the agile world.

“Give a team a solution and you help for a day; teach a team to work together and they solve problems for a lifetime.”

Many managers still want to be the source of all solutions. This usually includes controlling the communication from/to their employees. In my experience, this behaviour sometimes stems from an insecurity of being less visible or less relevant in the organization.

As the tech culture shifts towards more collaboration, there will be less room for insecure managers.

Additional resources