Managers Don’t Hate Agile

Managers Don’t Hate Agile

Whilst I get my head into gear regarding my New Hope, here’s a brief post on the typical reaction to Agile from managers.

Managers don’t hate Agile. At least, before they come into contact with it in their organisations. Before contact, they mostly have no opinion on it. The few who have taken the trouble to read about it generally perceive it as a somewhat desirable thing. A WIBNI. It seems marginally attractive and benign, not least because there are so few articles, stories, etc. describing the pitfalls.

So, most managers who adopt Agile, or have to adopt it via edicts from higher up, are woefully ill-prepared for the consequences. Sooner or later, it starts to dawn that to do agile “properly” has far-reaching implications, both for the organisation outside the development teams, and for themselves personally. The lion’s share of these implications are not attractive.

Consequently, the precepts of agile, unknown at the outset, but becoming clearer as news begins to come in, get watered down to point where they become non-threatening. And in the process, become non-viable, too. The baby is discarded with the bathwater, lip-service is paid to “being Agile”, and things return to the status quo.

Of course, this sticks in the craw of any who want Agile to succeed – developers and testers, mainly. Being far from the gemba (a.k.a. the coalface, where the work is happening), those who first stipulated the Agile adoption have little alternative but to believe that:

  • The Agile adoption is going well (until it becomes obvious it is not).
  • The fault for ultimate failure lies with Agile itself, rather than the managers’ undermining of it.
  • The departure of disillusioned talent – developers and testers, mainly – is just “natural wastage”.

So, managers don’t hate Agile. Most are utterly indifferent to it. Many just come to ignore it, once its nature becomes understood. And a very, very few come to embrace it as a good thing.

– Bob

  1. Paul Beckford said:

    Hi Bob,

    Great post. I want to expand on the following:

    “The lion’s share of these implications are not attractive.”

    There is a myth out there that the purpose of organisations is to serve their customers and society in general. There are a number of espoused management theories that build on this assumption. All of them are attractive in theory until you actually try to put them into practice and find that they conflict with the prevailing theory in use.

    Chris Argyris in his Action Science describes the difference between espoused theories and theories in use within organisations. He talks about Model I and Model II modes of interacting and problem solving. He says Model II (which is consistent with the espoused management theories) is seldom found in the wild, whilst Model I (which he describes as manipulative/dishonest and defensive) is prevalent.

    If Chris is right, it begs the question why?

    Lets work back from the Model I behaviour that he says is prevalent to determine a motive or a purpose that would lead to such behaviour. When you do it all begins to make sense. The purpose of organisations is not to serve the needs of the many (customers, employees, society as a whole), but to serve the needs of the few (primarily shareholders and those who serve their interests).

    If this is the case then the few need to find ways to motivate the many to serve their interests. Wages is the main mechanism, but it has a problem, if you pay too much in wages it reduces profits… also as the nature of work has become more intellectual and knowledge based it has as become clear that knowledge workers are just as interested (perhaps more interested) in psychological rewards (Theory X vs Theory Y). So some form of psychological compensation needs to be found.

    This is where the espoused management theories fit in. They create the right mood music, and legitimate the need for basic autonomy in the workplace… eradicating some of the worst draconian controls that use to exist (like people having to ask permission to go to the toilet, yes this use to happen, and still does in some parts of the world :)) When you try and push the espoused theories further and talk about providing real power and control to workers however (which is what is needed for maximum performance), everything begins to unravel.

    The reason being is the espoused theories are no longer merely serving the interests of the few (by providing psychological rewards to the many), but begin to threaten those interests, by challenging the authority of the hierarchy they put in place (namely Managers and Executives), to ensure that the bulk of the rewards flow to them.

    Shareholders would much rather have disgruntled customers and unhappy employees if it means larger profits 🙂 Organisational performance is not their primary goal. Their goal is the concentration of wealth, which you won’t get with fully empowered workers, irrespective of how well they perform. Empowered workers will want their fair share 🙂

    And this is the crux for me. For organisations to really embrace ideas like Agile (and TQM, and Lean, and Theory Y and…), the people who own them must be motivated by something beyond maximising the return on investment to themselves. Otherwise why would they do it (in practice) rather then just espouse it (in theory)?


  2. Onoreno DiNardo Jr. said:


    First time visitor here, and I’ve just read two posts, but I’d guess that you have some goals that just aren’t happening. I’m not that much of an “agile” advocate, simply because from my perspective, the change has to be not only desired, but a commitment needs to be made. And in general, I don’t see the commitment. I see the desire for a silver bullet, or something that makes the person advocating whatever, look good, and advance their cause.

    Instead, I look at doing the right thing, and try to find that thing, that I can afford the cost of. Mostly this is a longer term commitment, such as a relationship. But it applies to firms too.

    Would that make a difference in how you think of the process of becoming “agile”?

  3. Paul Beckford said:

    Hi Bob,

    I’ve been resisting the urge. Sorry for hi-jacking your blog, but to be honest this is the only place in the Agile community where I can come come for an open and honest conversation (which is sorely needed BTW!!).

    I need your personal email so I can send you stuff as possible seeds for a future blog… I’ve given up on blogging myself… lost the energy… so your efforts are greatly appreciated 🙂 (but I’m guessing you knew that.)


    I mentioned that Model II behaviour in the workplace is in short supply,… well I came across this video… Steve Jobs in full flow at a workshop during the time when he went off to startup NeXt Computers.. Now his “reality distortion lens” is legendary, and could be viewed as a form of manipulation as he tries to get the most out of his team, but I don’t see it that way. It can’t be manipulation when you are coning yourself too right? 🙂 An interesting thing to remember about this period is that Jobs had no guarantee that Next was going to succeed. He didn’t know that Apple would take him back either. He had stumped up the $7 Million seed capital himself, and everyone at Next was paid the same salary of $75,0000, (including himself I guess), and the pay roll was open to scrutiny by everyone.

    He is confronted in the video by a young woman, who challenges his ridiculous timelines.. What is noticeable is that he stops and listens and shows deep respect (love) for what she has to say… In return if you listen carefully you can hear her subtext of “I love you too Steve, and I want this to succeed which is why I am saying what I am saying”. This bunch are clearly motivated by a lot more then mere money 🙂 I guess the hippy generation had a thing or two right 🙂 I thought it was apt sharing given that Valentines day is now upon us 🙂



      • Paul Beckford said:


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