Richard Bucker

Agile Management vs Herding Cats

Posted at — Sep 9, 2011

I recently blogged about agile, building teams and herding cats. It’s a topic that’s always close at hand. I’ve had several job interviews over the last 4 months and agile always comes up.Agile used to mean the tight feedback loop between the client and the producer (the producer can be a programmer). Today it has come to mean so much more.I asked an agile coach, friend of mine, about the cats and agile thing. His response was that you cannot heard programmers like cats. And that you had to have strong leadership and define clear goals.So I went back to my Agile Project Management book and started thumbing through. I found a passage where the author said that teams were meant to be self organizing.All of the contradiction is making my head spin.Agile Suggests: there are no managers that the teams might be made up of cats, but so what, they will self organize priorities are set by project managers who manage projects and not people producers don’t have to make value decisions just do the workBut my friend suggests that: you need a strong manager clear goals (probably priorities) don’t bother with the cats, that’s so yesterdayhmmm… So I skimmed my Scrumban and Kanban books again; looking for references to teams. The common “self-organized” statement was there… but that was it. And then Eureka.Agile Project Management is meant to be implemented by strong and seasoned managers. Managers who already heard cats at an intuitive level. And so my blood pressure is resuming it’s normal level as I recognize the fact that strong/good managers already herd cats and probably to agile on the fly by intuition; where new PMI, paper dragons, rely on the strictest sense of the “written” agile process instead of a functional blend between project management and people management.PS: Many years ago I took a class on “root cause analysis” that was being given by a consultant for my employer. Root cause is pretty easy to do; it’s essentially a recursive investigation into the mathematical significance in the problem/error space. The instructor was clear to say that noobs should recurse down all paths until the numbers were flat. And more importantly leave intuition out of it. Your intuition will work but later. This was practical advice because “we” were always in the data. Day-in, day-out. This is different than management. There is room for intuition in people and product management. But you need “strong” skills to be there.Agile is ok. I’m certain it works. But it should not be the only tool in the managers toolbox. Teams, people and projects are much more complicated than this. Otherwise the ten commandments would have been enough.