"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change!" - Charles Darwin

Friday, 5 April 2013

A Lean manager is not a coach!

Or is not only a coach.
Or, even better, is not primarily a coach.

Many times I heard people saying that traditional management style do not apply in an Agile and Lean context and therefore it must be replaced by coaching as THE way to help people develop.
I think this is wrong or at least shows a narrow, easy and fluffy view of what a manager is supposed to do for an organization in the 21st century who wants to run its operation inspired by Lean thinking.
But let’s have a look at the different Lean disciplines one by one and try to understand better what is the essential contribution needed from you as a manager.

  1. Eliminate waste
First step to eliminate waste is to see the waste. So you should know (and know very well) the Value Stream of the product(s) you’re working with and continuously challenge the current practice to identify waste. 
But this is not enough: a Lean manager should help teams remove impediments they are not able to resolve by themselves and systemize solutions in the organizations to prevent the same impediment from coming back again (see more about this in my previous post 3 things we can learn from TPS)

  1. Build quality in
This means for a manager working to build a culture of discipline and excellence, that is guide on principles and values instead of giving complex rules, teach people not to cut corners, challenge people to high performance and lead by example. And yes, that implies true leadership.

  1. Amplify learning
Most managers face competition with other managers trying to meet locally optimized goals and maybe look good to the next level up. But this wastes a lot of organizational learning, which can be effectively used by pairing up with peers. So building and maintaining a network of peers is essential as well as continuously challenge own management style in the light of Agile and Lean principles (see also Cultural transformation through deliberate practice of behaviors). But amplifying learning also means:
·         concretely encouraging experiments, fast feedback loops and safe/fast failure
·         providing and being open to feedback
·         striving for a radical transparency (as Steve Denning calls it) as the unique way to control the complex system your organization represents

  1. Defer commitment
Keep your options open up to the last responsible moment and be capable to live with uncertainty: there’s no other way around (have a look here). Furthermore early commitment could mean discard too early real options which might have provided more value, just not to afford the cost of deferring a decision.

  1. Deliver as fast as possible
The fastest way of achieving a goal is to let a diverse team of skilled people self-organize to better judge how to solve the problem. And the best way to have them self-organize is to define what the goal is, make it compelling and clarify what constraint the environment around puts to the direction. Then if you want to help your team or organization to deliver as fast as possible, set a clear vision, explain clearly where to go and why, align all stakeholders around that vision and get fast feedback. Then set specific goals derived from the vision: in that sense you’re the PO of your organization, so write a backlog of stories aligned with what you think is the ultimate goal to reach. And finally give space to your teams to reflect on what they are doing to find ways how to go even faster.
If you're not a front line engineer, there's only one reason for you to exist: help your team move faster - Jan Bosch

  1. Respect people
Who dare disagree with this? Actually this apparently generic statement hides a deeper meaning. It stands for: give people the environment and support they need to do a great job and trust they will do their best to accomplish their goal. So it’s not simply saying to a team: Now you’re empowered to do what you want, but putting them into the conditions to succeed. So it’s about staying close to the teams, Managing By Walking Around and Listening (MBWAL instead of MBSR – Managing By Status Report), energizing people around you, assisting on personal development. And yes: that might be teaching, mentoring and coaching as well.

  1. Optimize the whole
Optimizing the whole means having an e2e view of your system, product or organization and consequently as a manager selecting the right metrics which can help you improve, measures only what adds value (less is more) and whatever you want to measure, measure it one level up.

Of course, being a Lean manager does not mean taking decisions your team would be able to take themselves, asking for reviews and reports or pushing activities on your people.
On the other hand coaching is all about the coachee agenda, but improving theValue Stream, build the organizational culture, set the direction or define proper metrics cannot be other than about your agenda as a manager.

So were you one of those who thought that managing an Agile and Lean organization meant just coaching?   
What’s your thinking now?