Managers in Agile with Jurgen Appelo

Episode 53

March 29, 2012



The Agile Weekly Crew and Jurgen Appelo discuss Management 3.0.

Roy: Welcome to another episode of the Scrumcast. My name is Roy van de Water and joining today is Jurgen Appelo. Could you please introduce yourself a little bit Jurgen?

Management 3.0

Jurgen Appelo: Yeah. Sure. My name is Jurgen Appelo and I am the writer of a book called “Management 3.0.” I am also the author of a blog called and I am interested in the role of the manager in agile organizations, organizations working with scrum or any of the other agile methods.

Roy: Cool. I’ve been scanning through “Management 3.0” and I talked to Jade quite a bit who has read the whole thing. What was your motivation to write that book?

Jurgen: My original motivation was to write a book about complexity science and Agile…

Jurgen: …developments because I like the science that explains why Agile works. I read lots of books about systems theory and thought. With people at conferences, I’ve noticed that their main problems were with management and leadership because Agile and Scrum don’t really define what the role is of managers.

People just see managers as impediments to be put on the impediment backlog or something. Managers have to support the teams in order to make Agile really work. When I got that feedback, I thought, “OK, let’s focus my book on that topic because I happen to be a manager for 15 years.” I knew something about the role of the manager in Agile organizations.

That’s what I, then, decided to focus on.

Managers Reactions To The Book

Roy: What do you feel has been the reaction from the managers that have read your book?

Jurgen: So far, so good. Interestingly enough, most of the people who read my book are not necessarily managers themselves, but interested in the role of the managers or how to help them.

Also, in my courses for example, based on the book, I think about 20 percent of them are middle managers. The other 80 percent are formed by Scrum Masters, product owners, team leaders, sometimes entrepreneurs, sometimes a product manager. A very diverse bunch of people, but they all struggle with the management position.

Either they are themselves managers or they want to help managers in order to get them aligned with what Agile expects from them.

How Can Agiles Coaches Facilitate Innovation

Roy: Many people are saying that they value innovation, but they don’t really allow the environmental conditions for it to thrive to exist. What can we, as Agile coaches, do to help that?

Jurgen: That’s a difficult, difficult question. One thing that seems to lack in Agile methods is experimentation. Basically, I learned from system’s science that there are three forms for systems to survive in changing environments. Scrum teams are, also, systems that are trying to survive in a changing environment. Those three approaches are anticipation, adaptation and experimentation.

In Scrum, we do a little bit of anticipation because we try to look at the next sprint and predict what the customer wants. At least, that’s what the product owner does. We do a lot of adaptation because we show the results to the product owner. Then, they respond, the back‑log changes and new priorities and things off that.

But what about experimentation? There is no real guidance on exploring things, just for the sake of trying things out. I explain that sometimes jokingly, “I ordered a chai tea latte from Starbucks a few weeks ago, just to see what it was and I hated it. It was terrible, so I threw it away.” This was neither anticipation nor adaptation. It was exploration, just trying things out for the sake of trying.

We seem to be lacking that in Agile organizations. That is what innovation needs actually. We need a bit of time and space for experiments.

How Do I Get My Teams To Be Self-Organizing

Roy: From reading your book, I feel that you value self‑organization a lot and getting the team to feel like they have the authority to perform this type of experimentation. I’ve heard managers in the past ask the somewhat ironic question, “How do I make my team be self‑organizing?”

What is the right way to ask that question? How do I allow my team to self organize or encourage them to self organize? Have you found a good way to get them to really feel comfortable, to take the authority, to make decisions and experiment?

Jurgen: Yeah, because usually managers trouble a bit with delegating stuff to self‑organizing teams because they see as it as a black or white thing. Either I make a decision as a manager or the teams make the decisions as self‑organizing teams. They see it as just two actions. But, actually there are more options in between. There are shades of gray.

In my book, I list several levels of delegation. The second level, for example, is trying to convince a team, but you still make a decision as a manager.

The third level is a step further where you first ask the teams, “What is it that you would do if you were allowed to make that decision? Just give me your input.” Let them, still I will decide.

Step‑by‑step you could go into the direction of delegation without doing a full‑blown sweep from level one to level seven because that for some managers feels dangerous and it is dangerous with some teams. You need a more gradual approach.

I try to help them with that. I explain it sometimes as trying to find what is the speed limit. Trying to drive your car as fast as possible, but you don’t want to drive too fast because that will end up in chaos. It’s the same with self‑organizing teams. I’ve seen it myself. Inexperienced and immature are allowed to make any kind of decision, things will blow up. There is too much freedom. You have to constrain it a little bit.

Helping Managers That Are Resisting Change

Roy: What would you say to a manager that’s resisting allowing their team to self‑organize, perhaps somebody more of the traditional management role where they’ve always been taught that if they’re not in control, then everything is going to go wrong?

Jurgen: That’s a well‑known problem. It’s a good question. I can only tell from my own experience that I have noticed quite the opposite. When I introduced Scrum in the Agile organization, things were going better. Things were not blowing up around us as much as they used to before.

We have self‑organizing teams. I was able delegate to them. The performance went up. This did not diminish my role as a manager. On the contrary, it elevated me in the eyes of many, including my own CEO, because I was the one who came up with it. I was the one who said, “We have to do this.”

The result was that I expanded my span of control from 20 people to 30 people and then, in the end, to 100 people because it made us more scalable and I could manage more teams. I would deny that it makes managers feel powerless.

On the contrary, if you do it well, it could make you more powerful. It’s a bit cliche, but it is win/win. You gain from it as a manager because better performing teams reflect on you as a manager because they are your teams. My CEO didn’t want to let go of me anymore after such good decisions.

Changing Organizations

Roy: Got you. You talked a little bit about introducing Scrum into organizations and starting to form these teams. You just came out with a new protocol of how to change the world. How does that fit into trying to introduce organizational change?

Jurgen: The question that I get most often is, “How do I get other people to change their behavior?” Or any form of that question like, “How do I convince team members that they should develop themselves some more?” Or, “How do I convince my customers that they should accept Scrum and its changing back‑log and things like that?”

It’s always the same thing that Agile and Agile coaches struggle with it is convincing other people that they have to change. I have basic change management. I have researched that. I have borrowed lots of ideas from many good books and I turned it into a little handbook called, “How to Change the World”.

It is an ambitious title, but it’s only 80 or 90 pages. It sort of gives an overview from my perspective as a complexed thinker on how you should approach a social system, which an organization is.

It is a social system, and you have to poke it with ideas and experiments, and see what works and what doesn’t and do iteratively and get feedback and basically, you have to be agile as a change agent as well because you never know how the system is going to respond, how the organization is going to respond to your ideas, but just to try things out and also understand that you have to work on not only the rational level, but the emotional level as well because some people are aware of a need for change, but they have to be fed the medicine with lots of sugar.

You have to address the people’s intrinsic desires as well and not only the rational part.

Why Is Management Slow To Change

Roy: In the book too, you talk a little bit about how management is often times really slow to change. Why do you think that is?

Jurgen: It’s for many reasons. I’m quite sure some of them will fear their jobs because they see it not unreasonably as a danger for their position because I do think that, in some organizations, there are too many managers. The middle management layer is simply too fat.

It can be thinner, but it doesn’t mean that we need no managers. I’m quite sure that for some this is the reason to resist and while for others it is simply not knowing what to do and willing to work with self‑organizing teams, but fearing that things go out of control. These managers would have a positive inclination towards Agile, but they simply don’t know how to handle it in a safe way.

There are many different ways, many different reasons I think for managers to be cautious or resisting. We have to figure it out on a person by person basis.

Roy: What would be your best change success story where you’ve gone in somewhere and introduced a good change?

Jurgen: That would be my own organization because I’m not an Agile coach. I can only talk from my own experience as a manager. I’ve been working in my last organization for 7 years as CIO. There I introduced Scrum and it was a success in terms of the people who were working there, both the team members, top management, and customers.

Of course, there were plenty of problems that we had to solve, but that’s what Scrum does. It doesn’t solve the problems itself. It just makes them more visible. We could start working on them, but everyone agreed that we made a good step in the right direction, that’s my personal experience. Of course, I hear plenty of stories from others, but they’re not my own.

Roy: Recently you’ve been involved and helped organize something called the Stoos network. Could you please tell us a little bit about that?

Jurgen: Yeah, sure. I was in contact with Steve Denning, another author who wrote Radical Management, Franz Roosli, who was part of the Beyond Budgeting Movement, Peter Stevens who was an Agile coach, and the four of us thought wouldn’t it be great to get people together, who are all trying to address the management problem and I’m just one of many.

We started inviting people, and this became the Stoos event, the STOLZ, it is actually pronounced in German. In Switzerland, we had 21 people together to discuss things and we tried to figure out how can we accelerate change in the world and it is a very difficult topic.

But we were very much inspired by each other and it seems that there’s plenty of spinoff activity now with Stutz satellites and Fearless Change, Fearless Hamburg, Fearless et cetera, lots of cities where events are being scheduled, and we’re already talking about some follow up events that have not been announced or scheduled yet, but at least we want to go on because it is a topic that many people are concerned about, and we’re all trying to figure out how can we help to accelerate change in the world.

My another book How to Change the World is my own small contribution, but many people have their own contributions as well and we want to align them and make it dance together, that would be useful I think.

Roy: Do you have anything that you’d like to promote or current things that you’re working on that you’d like to talk about?

Jurgen: Well, there’re lots of things that I’m working on. I’ve already started writing the next book, which is sort of a real follow up to Management 3.0 in terms of very practical stuff to do.

I aim for things you can try the next Monday morning when you get back to your work. That level of practical pragmatic stuff because my first book had lot of theory in it and I thought it was important to have a solid foundation, but now people are asking for more examples of practical things that are happening in other organizations and that they could try out.

I’m collecting those. I talk with people at conferences. I have my own idea of what I call roving coffee. I have coffee with people in various places in the world.

Wherever I’m traveling, I invite people to have coffee with me and I ask them what are practices that are working for you, I want to hear their stories so anyone who wants to share a story with me, they can do that over email or have coffee with me, I’m collecting them, and hopefully that turns into a very interesting new book that might be out by the end of the year or next year or something.

Roy: Awesome. That sounds great. I’m looking forward to it. All right, well, thank you for joining us.

Jurgen: Thank you for inviting me.

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