Monday, June 2, 2014

How do Agile Leaders & Managers Gain First-hand Insight into Employee Progress?

The agile management shall more focus on WHAT -the ultimate business goals, less on How-the task management. 

In the Agile world, some people find the performance review process a bit daunting or even needless. Because many businesses are moving from a more command-and-control environment to a team empowerment environment, so people as talent manager role will have a harder time understanding what their employee is doing. If your organization is still doing performance reviews, what should a manager do more effectively? Is there a better way to gain first-hand information about team? And how to assess the performance of today's multi-generational, multi-cultural and multi-devicing digital workforce more objectively?

Each team has SOMEONE who supports and motivates the team, who shares their own knowledge to edify the team, who gives a hand here and there to allow everyone to do better, who will take a sledgehammer to break down the barriers that hinder the team's performance. This 'someone' may be the SCRUM Master, but could be someone else, who is the *real* leader of the team. Such agile leader knows very well how everyone on the team is doing. From management perspective, if you can't find this special person, then you may get lost. The real agile leader should have all the information you need to motivate the team and assess team performance. 

Communicate, communicate and communicate. In an Agile world, the employee is much more strongly associated and interacts with the team and the backlog of work, and much less so with the manager. This can be challenging for some managers where they have less interaction with the team. Many managers in this situation move from a function manager to more of a resource or talent manager. But if the employee is working on the team focusing on building product, then the manager has much less insight, but if a manager doesn't know what his/her employees are doing, there's a huge problem. You can't manage a team without this kind of information. So, there's only one solution: communicate iteratively and give your time to your employees.

There is an Agile-flip that happens everywhere in the organization and performance measurement is no different. The difference is that you need to look into both individual and team performance, with team performance KPIs having a heavier weight. However, performance is no longer a measure for success in itself, but rather a simple check in how the person is progressing towards her/his own goals and how the organization is enabling those goals. Agile team members for the most part already know what they would like to do, and the performance discussion is about what they need from the company to succeed. Now, if the company is acting as a real enabling or empowerment agent, it can always proactively offer suggestions on how it will be able to offer help.

Management focus on WHAT -the ultimate business goals, less on task management. Everyone outside the scrum team is now approaching the teams from a supporting role while managers are transitioning their focus on delivering the "what" the business needs (quality, transparency, cadence, agility, etc) and then evaluating "how" each team is progressing toward those business goals. Before Agile, team members got their work tasks from their functional managers. This gave the manager quite a bit to do. After Agile, the team members get their work from a backlog managed by a product owner or similar role. So while the functional manager may still be the manager of the team members, there is much less task management work for the manager to do. Since the team members may still report to this manager, the manager can shift their responsibilities to primarily resource or talent management for the employees, including helping them with their training needs. This is a significant shift for many managers. 

Measurement still matters and matters more. The business needs to start evaluating ROI at the team level and let the team "evaluate" at the peer level when the business isn't getting the results it needs. If a business can set clear measurable goals around agile maturity, and you can successfully reward people based solely off team performance, then you should see the team become a lot more proactive and critical about peer performance. If you want to go Agile, you need to seriously consider transitioning from top-down management into agile leadership, then you can still gain first-hand insight into the employees and team performance.

With that said, the ivory tower management style is out of date, and the approach depends on the team’s current agile maturity and the velocity at which the business needs to be moving. But in any circumstances, it is important for managers to gain first hand insight on employee progress and project & team progress as well.


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