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Agile and Organizational Structures

Putting up a Kanban board or holding daily Scrum meetings does not make an agile organization. Neither does the adherence to all the Scrum or Kanban – or whatever else – rules. You may even succeed in becoming really agile on a micro basis in your organization: The teams get a beautifully groomed backlog from their Product Owner, they deliver software at the end of each iteration and they inspect and adapt to get better in their own processes. And, I am sure, it already helps a lot with their productivity and motivation.

But then comes along the boss

And it is usually not a pointy-haired one that we all laugh about from a well-known comic strip. He (or she) has been the best developer in the organization and was outspoken for a long time, so he naturally got the promotion when the company grew and felt the need to introduce a new management layer of team leaders. Now he has the responsibility for what the team delivers, and, of course, he knows best what to deliver and how to do it. So, he will let the team be agile but when he realizes they are not using the framework of his choice he must intervene! Let’s create a task force to investigate what frameworks to use with a decision due at the end of the sprint. And he will be part of the task force. Guess what the outcome will be? And one of the committed stories of the sprint didn’t get done again!

You get the picture… No, I do not mean to say that all management is evil. Certainly mostly they have the best intentions. But all too often managers cannot rid themselves off the good old „manager knows best – manager must make decisions“ logic. And the higher up the manager, the better he knows.

Leadership is necessary. But …

I am convinced, that we need managers around. Leadership is necessary. But we need to curb the inflation of managers in organizations. The natural career path is still to become a manager at some point. But does the organization really need yet another manager? And then there is the hierarchy in an organization where we all automatically think – the higher, the better, the smarter, the more money…

I believe herein lies a big problem for most organizations when they try to become agile. A hierarchical organization implies a command structure top-to-bottom that makes empowered and self-organized teams or departments so much more difficult to implement. So I propose to look at organizations in a different way.

In the following weeks I will put my thoughts on this into a small series of blog posts I will call Blueprints for Agile Organizations. I will examine the necessary minimal structures for organizations of different sizes and I will look into ways on how to describe the structures other than in hierarchical organization charts. I consider this one of many important steps to get away from command & control management to true agile leadership. Also, I want to investigate how such structures can organically grow and shrink over the lifetime of a company. I do not have the answer to all this but I have some ideas and this will hopefully help me to put some more structure into the ideas and get feedback for them.

Christof Braun, Trainer Management 3.0 & Management Consultant