02 Sep The Agile Manager’s Practice: Seeding and Cultivating Agile Champions
As we all know, the job of the Agile manager is challenging. One of the manager’s biggest challenges is giving up the old mindset that managing is about ‘driving to results.’ In fact, as we teach in our Managing Agile Environments class, one of the mindset shifts which the agile manager undergoes is the shift from managing (or driving) to results to designing environments that generate results.
One key environment design practice is to cultivate relationships with, and empower agile ‘champions’ within your organization. Agile champions are individuals, from different parts (and levels) of your organization, who may or may not be on agile teams, who are passionate about the transformational potential of agile, and have some particular skill or set of connections to bring agile thinking and capability to their particular area of work.
Two Kinds of Champions
The Activist tends to have a somewhat pronounced role in the organization—he or she may be a dev lead, a QA lead, or an experienced PO—and he or she uses that role to influence others.
These are the people who—if sufficiently empowered and enabled by their managers—will start up and organize truly vibrant communities of practice, coding ‘dojos’, agile lunches (devoted to specific topics that are highly relevant for particular audiences). The agile activist is something of a ‘loud mouth’ (but not in an annoying way!).
The Sleeper Cell is the person who is likely not working on an agile team, and in fact may not be directly affiliated with agile, per se. However, he or she has seen the possibility that agility can bring to the organization more broadly and simply bide their time until they can bring agile wisdom to bear just at the right moment. Such a person, for instance, might be involved with regulatory compliance, where their insights about how agile thinking could improve the compliance process blossoms just at the moment when the new compliance process is being drafted.
Another such person might be in charge of negotiating a contract with an offshore QA provider, and has the forethought to include in the contract a requirement that offshore QA have daily ‘check-in’ (i.e. daily stand-up) meetings with their onshore development counterparts.
Both Activists and Sleeper Cells in effect do part of the work of agile management, which is seeding conditions that favor the gradual adoption of agile practices, particularly in places, and at moments, you as the manager may not think to do. These people are, in a very real sense, your partners and your helpers.
Growing Agile Champions
How can you grow Agile champions? There are three steps: Expose, Identify, Relate and Enable :
- Expose: creating a variety of occasions in which people throughout your organization, especially those who are not on Agile teams but who may be curious about Agile, learn about the principles of Agile. Such events include 90 minute agile orientations, 60 minute Scrum, XP, and Kanban games, town halls that are devoted to talking about your vision, as a manager, for Agile and what it could provide for the organization.
- Identify: You want to keep an eye out for people who seem particularly interested in Agile. These are the people who ask questions during an event. Or they stay after to ask follow-up questions. Their comments and reflections during an event seem right on. Or sometimes you just see a glint in their eyes which suggests that something about Agile has truly touched or inspired them.
- Relate/Enable: Find a way to connect 1-on-1 with that person. Grab a coffee or lunch. Invite them for a 20 minute chat. Find out what they think about Agile and how they think it might be relevant in their particular work sphere. Ask them how the might bring agile thinking to their own work world. Ask them if there is anything you could do to help them.
Growing and cultivating Agile Champions is a key practice of designing environments. It is far more than delegating: it is quite literally cultivating conditions, in terms of actual human behavior and action, in which agile practice can blossom and fruit, organically, within your organization.