A self-managing team does not mean no rules!

LordoftheFliesOne of the more prevalent myths with agile approaches is that the project manager should let the team develop their own working practices and rules of engagement to manage themselves.  While this sounds great in theory, in many cases it will result in disaster.

No question, in times of crisis over usually fairly short durations a team of professionals can develop creative ways to work together effectively and productively to resolve the situation but this doesn’t translate well into the world of most projects where the sense of urgency or shared goal is usually insufficient by itself to encourage productivity and efficiency.  While testing this hypothesis might make for a good social experiment and has been utilized regularly on reality TV shows such as The Apprentice, few organizations will want to take chances with their critical projects.

I’m not advocating the anachronistic use of rigid command and control practices on the part of the project manager.  While a lack of attention and guidance to work practices and results may result in chaos, being a slave driver is almost guaranteed to cause project failure along with permanently damaged relationships between the project manager and team members.

As with other project management situations, this becomes a balance between the “what” and the “how”.

The project manager needs to ensure that the team had a clear, consistent understanding of “what” the expected project outcomes and benefits are as well as “what” the key deliverables and activities are.  The project manager also should set expectations and require compliance with “what” he or she needs to develop plans and to track and report on progress for the project.

However, when it comes to “how” the work gets done and “how” progress reporting and other normal practices will be performed, the project manager should provide the team with the flexibility to explore and develop the most efficient method for them.  This doesn’t mean starting with a blank slate or letting the team radically change directions on a weekly basis.  It does mean reviewing the organization’s standard or de facto practices at the start of the project and educating the team on why these practices are important and then giving the team the opportunity to adapt these practices and to regularly review them during retrospectives.

Moving to a more “black box” approach to work management provides greater empowerment of team members without the risks implicit with totally abdicating management responsibility.

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Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “A self-managing team does not mean no rules!

  1. Mark Moore, PMP

    This is right up there with the people who believe “agile = zero planning”. You need enough management and control to make sure it does’t run off the rails while not so much that you get bogged down.

    And as you note, it’s fine for short burst in a professional team focused on a specific problem. But it isn’t a vote for anarchy or no accountability.

  2. kbondale

    Thanks Mark – figuring out the right degree of oversight and guidance is definitely one of the more challenging aspects of situational leadership whether on agile or traditional projects!

    Kiron

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