Taking managers with you - a key success factor in an agile transformation

The role of managers in agile transformation is crucial to the success of the entire endeavour. Managers are no longer just decision-makers. They become trailblazers, mentors and catalysts of change. They must create a vision for the agile transformation and drive it forward with conviction. In this context, managers must learn to relinquish power and empower teams to act in a self-organised manner.

When talking about agile transformation or an agile pilot, the focus is usually on the team. In order to create the necessary understanding and make the transformation successful, people talk about agile values and principles and methods.

But if you look at current statistics on which agile transformations are the most sustainable and achieve the highest level of maturity, another key element stands out: The deep involvement of management in the agile transformation.

This often receives too little attention. We want to show you why involving managers can provide a sustainable boost for an agile pilot or the upcoming agile transformation, for example, and therefore be extremely valuable for the future success of the company.

The statistics show a clear trend: The higher the management level involved in the agile transformation, the higher the company's level of maturity. But why is this the case if agility primarily takes place at team level?

The answer can be found in the well-known "agile onion". This shows which characteristics are the strongest and how they affect the outside world. The focus is on an organisation's mindset or, loosely translated, its culture. It is well known that a company's culture is essentially shaped by its managers and exemplified by its employees. And it is precisely this connection that makes the involvement of managers in agile transformation so important, as in most cases a change in the mindset or corporate culture takes place during this process.

In a holistic and therefore potentially successful agile transformation, it is not only the roles within the teams that change. Managers also take on different roles. These usually differ depending on the management level. As the statistics at the beginning show, it is at least as important to understand and fulfil these roles correctly as the new roles in a Scrum team.

Managers as "environment managers"

Agile working needs agile leadership and agile leadership needs an agile culture. The core of the change is the agile culture or the agile mindset. But it also means that the leadership behaviour of all managers must be shaped accordingly with the introduction of agile working. This makes it relevant to examine one's own leadership behaviour. The managers concerned feel or know this, which is why you often hear the following phrases when agile working methods are introduced: "Another new sow is being driven through the village", "Old wine in new bottles" or "Before the introduction of all these processes, we already did it this way".

In discussions with the managers concerned, one main reason for these reservations ultimately - and regularly - crystallises: the fear of losing power and influence if their own employees act independently in the future and take on holistic entrepreneurial responsibility in the teams.

And if you are honest with those affected, then you have to admit that the concerns are basically true. But - and this is ultimately the core of the challenge of how managers need to be brought on board - this change does not alter the importance and position of these managers within the organisation. It does, however, focus on two aspects that represent a high value contribution for the organisation. *The first is professional leadership. For example, they are made available to an agile team in the role of a stakeholder. Or a "Community of Practice" [COP] is formed within the framework of which specialist disciplines exchange and organise themselves across teams. Managers are often ideally suited to take responsibility for such a COP.

The second aspect that is becoming increasingly important for managers in the context of an agile transformation is coaching and support. They offer their professional and human expertise to the team members as advisors and listen carefully when it comes to how a team can best be supported if the team wants to become more effective and efficient. The managers then specifically organise the team's environment so that it can achieve the highest performance and best results.

This allows managers to develop into "environment managers". They pass on responsibility to their motivated teams and employees, encouraging them to work independently and increasing their commitment and professional development.

Corporate management as a stakeholder for the transformation team

There are also changes for top management or company management. Particularly in the case of agile transformation, the role changes in that these managers are no longer the central decision-makers. They take on the role of a stakeholder and set up an agile transformation team (transformer team) for the transformation process. This team needs a product or transformation owner. Ideally, this role is filled by a member of the senior management team, i.e. a person who is trusted by the other members of senior management. This person is responsible for the backlog and may also have to allocate budgets, e.g. for culture change programmes.

In addition, the role of Scrum Master - in a transformation team, this role is often called a transformation coach - must be filled. A person who already has practical experience with the method is ideal here. They should also have a certain "standing" in order to be able to discuss behavioural changes with managers at all levels on an equal footing. Acceptance is an important factor here. Last but not least, a "working team" is required. It makes sense to fill this team with people from different areas and hierarchical levels who are well networked with colleagues. Ultimately, all employees of the company should be involved in the agile transformation. However, not all employees can participate in the transformation team. As with other agile teams, the rule here is that there should be a maximum of 11 people, including the product owner and scrum master, in order to work as efficiently as possible.

Analogue to the product vision, the transformation team needs a transformation vision. This contains the guiding principle on which the transformation process should be based. This vision is defined in top management and it is important that all members of this management level are behind it. The transformation owner develops the initial backlog based on this vision. As many points in the transformation are open-ended at the beginning, i.e. nobody can say exactly at the starting point to what extent and in what way they will be implemented, the initial backlog largely consists of items that deal with clarifications. Of course, there may also be very specific items, such as equipping the agile rooms.

The transformation team works agilely in scrum mode. The transformation owner and corresponding contact persons in the transformation team are in constant dialogue with colleagues at the various management levels. The sensitivities that arise during the transformation are an important input for the backlog. Elements such as regular round table discussions could be measures that serve to reduce reservations.

But top management also has to get used to its new role as a stakeholder. Decisions are made by the transformation owner together with the transformer team. Stakeholders provide appreciative but, if necessary, also critical feedback as part of the reviews. Basically, the same system is used as in the Scrum teams, where the product owner makes all decisions about the product.

The key to the success of an agile transformation in a company is the correct involvement of a company's managers in various roles and anchoring the change in the organisation. This is the only way to achieve sustainable success. For this reason, it is necessary to prepare them for these tasks as early as possible and gain their commitment to supporting the change.

Your benefit

  • Create a framework to promote "real" agility in your company.
  • Managers take on a new role and support agility in the best possible way.
  • Obstacles to agility in the previous organisational structure are removed.
  • A transformation team strengthens acceptance of the change process and takes everyone involved with it.