Can you be a manager without knowing Agile?

Agile is not for all, of course. Some business problems simply require different ways of work. But can you be a manager in an industry in the XXI century without hearing of Agile at all? Two seasoned Agile coaches, Tony Richards and Paweł Feliński, met to discuss how they would answer the question.

Webinar transcription

Can You be a Manager Without Knowing Agile?

[00:00:00.570] - Speaker 1

You. Hi, and welcome to the first edition of Agile Encounters. Today we're going to be exploring the subject of whether or not you can be a manager without knowing agile. But before we get into that topic, I just wanted first to introduce you to Pawel.

[00:00:18.290] - Speaker 2

Hello. Pawel Felinski over here. Welcome to our webinar. Last couple of years I spent in Meirik consultancy as an Agile coach, and I was working here with Tony. We had a lot of good discussions and great collaborations with many customers, and today we are sharing part of our point of view with you. Tony. Who are you?

[00:00:44.590] - Speaker 1

Yeah, so my name is Tony Richards, I work with Meirik as well. I'm very much on the client side. I do a little bit of training, but largely I'm spending a lot of time working with managers in organisations, mostly on the large side but sometimes smaller. And I also, like Pawel, have a background in Agile and Lean practises. And on that note, we're really going to get into the subject now. So, Pawel, just to open it up, can you be a manager without knowing Agile?

What is an Agile Manager?

[00:01:16.410] - Speaker 2

It's a very tricky question, actually. Very often, literally, my last two classes that I delivered, we talk about how to be Agile leader, what is an Agile manager. But we never ask a question, or we rarely ask a question, can you be a manager, just a regular random manager, without having an idea what Agile is, without hearing what Agile is? And I think this is an important topic. This is an important topic as well. My first idea, what I would like to share with you, is what I started with-  leader or manager. Very often, I hear many people using these two labels literally as labels, I'm a leader or a manager, no matter, it doesn't matter, really. I think there is a difference between managers and leaders. And our question is, can you be a manager, just a manager, without hearing of Agile? Tony, what do you think? Is there any strict difference between these two labels as I say?

[00:02:19.750] - Speaker 1

I don't know if there is a strict difference, but I've done a bit of research in the background to the nature and the history of the words. And it's interesting if you look at the background of the word manager, it comes from the equestrian world, the management of horses and training horses to perform and behave in a particular way. Whereas leadership comes from a military background. So more around, how do you lead people into some kind of conflict or challenge? So, to my mind, if you take those two roots of the words, there is a subtle difference in there in the way that they're both implying. One is around managing something to behave or operate in a certain way, whereas the other is a little bit more open in its setting an objective, it's setting a goal, and it's leading people towards that goal. So in my mind, there is a subtle difference, but I often see the two overlapped, as you say. What's your experience been?

[00:03:21.730] - Speaker 2

Well, in theory, I see there is a difference, definitely. But my practice, especially with customers, big customers, big corporations, really, is that people think with manager and leadership management leadership is literally the same. They used to be managers during the Agile transformation, they become leaders, but actually, nothing changes, really. I have a similar point of view to yours. For me to manage, first of all, is to have formal authority. People listen to you because they have to listen to you. If you are a leader, that means they want to listen to you. As simple as that. They will follow you. Perhaps it comes from the military. We are following leaders for a big battle or a war, but I'm not going in that direction. Interestingly. I believe you can be a manager and a leader. I think good managers are great leaders as well, but I wouldn't put any sign of equality over here. It's not that because you are a manager, you're a leader. It's simply: if you're a good manager, people will listen to you. You have charisma, and you don't need formal authority anymore to lead them. So our question coming back to the topic is, can you be a manager, not necessarily a leader, without hearing of Agile at all?

[00:04:46.410] - Speaker 2

What do you think, Tony?

[00:04:48.180] - Speaker 1

So for me, when I think of that question, it's all about the intention that you hold. So if, as a manager, your intention is to make everything as efficient as possible, to operate within the most efficient means, that's not to say an unnecessary thing, it's a very important thing. However, if, as a manager, your intention is to take the perspective of the person who's going to receive your service or product like a customer, or to take the perspective of a person or an employee in your team, then I believe that's a different kind of manager. What I mean by that, just to break it out, is a manager who's focused on, purely on efficiency often can fall into, and I've seen this with clients, the pitfall of optimising a part of the whole question and they sub-optimise the whole company. So by making their particular area efficient and managing it really tightly and controlling inadvertently and unknown to them, they're slowing everyone else down. Whereas if you take an outside-in approach, so you start to take the perspective of the customer or of someone in your team and you're managing for efficiency from their perspective, suddenly things happen.

[00:06:07.960] - Speaker 1

Either what you're producing or the service you're providing internally is well received, and you get feedback to confirm that. Or maybe the team members start to see improvements, but they see them in the eyes of a customer because you're role modelling this kind of behaviour. So for me, it a short answer, because that was quite a long explanation. If you're in the former camp, you're just driving proficiency. I think it would be quite hard to operate in an agile organisational team. Not impossible, but it would take some work. If you're in the latter camp and you're taking that outside-in perspective, customer team, employee, I think your journey is going to be a lot smoother. You may not even need to know agile. You just happen to do that kind of thing naturally. What's your take on it?

[00:06:54.890] - Speaker 2

Pawel, I think there's a third perspective, maybe something in between these two, because you take your customers' point of view, or not very often, based on where you come from. And I'm not talking about the manager, but literally, the business you're operating in a few domains. Not necessarily IT, by the way. Not necessarily IT, but domains. But if we use the Cynefin model, for instance, we call them complex domains with a lot of uncertainty in place. I think to be a manager, especially an effective manager, and never heard of agile or lean practises, that's absolutely wrong. You won't be a great success if you never heard about it. You should apply these methods in order to do a few things about it. But if your business operates in a domain that is not complex, it's simple, there's simply no need for agile or even lean solutions. I believe you can be a manager, successful manager, even executive level manager, and spend the entire career without hearing the Agile word at all. What do you think?

[00:08:12.510] - Speaker 1

Yeah, it's interesting you bring out that model of Cynefin. It's something I've come across in the past. If people want to look for it, there's an organisation called Cognitive Edge. You can go there, and you can look up the Cynefin model and follow Dave Snowden. What I think you've reminded me of is yet another model actually called the Integral model. And I think this is a useful thinking model for managers, which simply is a four-box square. Isn't everything a four-box square, but the difference is this four-box square takes the view of internal and external and individual and collective. And in summary, what it's trying to do is get you to think about things from these four different kinds of windows, these four different viewpoints. And very often, we focus maybe in the field of management on things. You can see the tangible stuff and the invisible stuff that's going on inside each of us. And collectively, as a team, we sometimes spend less time on that. Some people do it. Naturally, some people, they have to work on it, and they really have to train to do this well. So it's another model.

[00:09:16.600] - Speaker 1

As well as looking at complexity, I'd look at the Integral model to look at how you can broaden your view as a manager beyond where you typically favour. Because everyone has a bias, and that's okay, but we need to broaden it and bring in more views. So that's what you make me sort of think of. So where does that leave us with the original question? Pavel just bringing us back to Can you be a manager without knowing agile? What have we discovered today?

[00:09:44.330] - Speaker 2

I think because the topic that you just brought up was more about what does it mean to be an agile leader, right, an agile manager. So if you're using the integral model, for instance, to focus on a little bit different parts of that model, perhaps we should record once a webinar or the model. It's pretty overwhelming if you look at it at the first time. I think that the question is what's the primary focus of a manager? And I think we could have great answers. What would be the primary focus of agile managers versus what would be the primary focus of managers that never had about agile? But coming back to our topic, our original question, indeed, I think that no matter where you operate as a manager, successful managers should have something of curiosity. It's one of my favourite values, just next to focus. If you are curious of other methods, other applications, perhaps you will hear about agile at some point of time. And that's great for you. I recall one of the not only one nowadays, but one of the first customers of mayor of our company in oil and gas industry that typically never heard about Agile.

[00:11:04.040] - Speaker 2

And our as consultants first and first experience with oil and gas customers was that Agile? Nobody heard about it. That was awesome. And that was an awesome engagement for us because it was a greenfield situation. Nobody had any biases about Agility, Scrum, Candle, all various methods because nobody ever heard about it. I can't say that they were unsuccessful in managing their business for years. Something simply changed recently in the industry, and that's where, because of curiosity, perhaps urgency, sense of urgency, they decided to give me to explore different areas and it was a very good call for them. What do you think?

[00:11:48.850] - Speaker 1

So when you're talking about curiosity, that makes me think of a manager as a learner as well as someone who manages a team. So if they're working on themselves and you say they're curious about what's next, that's a sign that they would thrive in an agile environment. So that's the kind of person, yeah, I could definitely see them really taking this kind of way of working and working with it and building on themselves. So, yeah, I suppose never stop learning would be my takeaway from the conversation today. Learning is really where you start to grow others through growing yourself. So I don't know if there's any more I can add. Pavel but I don't know, did you want to round things up and just share with the listeners when our next webinar is sure.

[00:12:39.350] - Speaker 2

So learning, as Tony said, is one of the key aspects of any manager in general, I believe it would be great if one of the tools helping you learn would be our Agile Encounters series. For me, the key takeaway of today is that yes, you can be a manager without any idea what Agile is. Why not? But if you are interested in your personal growth, but if you are interested also in making your business robust, in preventing any future risk, but any black swans that you might not be aware of, perhaps exploring new areas, it seems good for you. One of the first topics I bring up during my very simple basic classes about Scrum is clear statement that Scrum does not work, where in my opinion, you should not apply Scrum. So even if in your context as a manager, agile is not the way, be curious, find out what Agile is and you will tell me in a moment whether it's good or not. Good idea for the industry, for your company. I think that's my key takeaway.

[00:14:03.550] - Speaker 1

So Pavel, that was a great takeaway you shared towards the end there. I'm sure people listening would like to know when we are going to be on these Agile Encounters next and what will it be. The topic?

[00:14:15.970] - Speaker 2

Actually, we have a date already set. Next time it will be a real-life event. So we encourage everybody interested to come in with questions. We'll have a lot of space time also to give you the answers. The topic that I think organically grew from the one that we brought up today is adopting Agile mindset. What does it really mean? How you can do that? And I think, Tony, you and I will have a lot of examples from our battlefields of how you can do that or how you shouldn't do that. It's February 16 in a month from now, here on Click meeting and it's at 06:00 p.m. GMT or 07:00 p.m. In Central European time. I hope to see you there. Tony, thank you very much for the conversation. Take care.

[00:15:10.710] - Speaker 1

Thanks, Pawel. You too. Bye.

Meet the speakers

Pawel Felinski

Paweł is a management consultant working in the fields of strategy execution and new product development. Recently, he has been involved in business transformations with Agile in the energy industry. Paweł brings a pragmatic and method-agnostic approach to problem-solving.

Tony Richards

Agile consultant, coach, and Scrum Master with 20 years experience across public and private organisations. He has a passion for coaching, focusing on exploring personal motivation and team dynamics. Tony is adept at uncovering individual motivations, so coaching interventions focus on individual needs and organisational outcomes. 

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