What keeps traditional managers awake at night and how does Agile solve those problems?
That’s a hard question to answer because I’m not a traditional manager and haven’t been one for quite some time.
Based on my experience, I see a lot of what I would call ‘efficiency tunnel vision’.
Milking the metaphorical cow
Traditional management and project management focus a great deal on milking the metaphorical cow. That is, to be as efficient at capturing and extracting value from current products, services, and the customers they serve.
It’s good to be efficient, and there are a lot of effective techniques available to help you become more efficient. Things like LEAN, Theory of Constraints, and many other approaches help you become more efficient.
The drawbacks of hyper-efficiency
The only problem with such an intense focus on efficiency is that you don’t leave any slack in the system that allows people time to think.
You don’t empower them to be creative, to come up with new ideas, or to innovate in any way.
And so, the kind of thinking that helps us become more efficient is the exact line of reasoning that impedes us from creating, inventing, and innovating.
This is why I talk a lot about ‘dual operating mode’, which is where we recognise that the whole organization doesn’t have to be agile. Some areas need to be great at execution and efficiency whilst other areas need to focus on innovation, effectiveness, and great product development.
Create Pockets of Agility
If we looked to create an environment where some areas of the organization were more agile than others, we could invest in helping teams discover the next great product.
The next metaphorical cow that can be milked over the coming years.
We could look to invest in identifying potential disruption from competitors and identify ways in which we could declutter our products and services and focus exclusively on creating value for customers that helped ensure market share retention and customer satisfaction.
We could invest in identifying which new markets are emerging and how we could create and capture value in those markets.
We could look to become a market leader in those new markets, or we could look to capture increased market share in existing markets because we know how to build products and features that delight customers in those markets.
Contrast between Agility and Traditional Management
In traditional management environments, executives understand that it takes a lot of hard work to find a product-market fit and when they have captured that fit, the focus shifts to milking that product-market fit as much as possible.
Gains come from efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Gains come from great execution.
Agile is great at helping teams identify a hypothesis about customer value and designing an experiment to prove or disprove that hypothesis.
Agile is great at innovation, product development, and the discovery of opportunities that organizations are well-aligned to exploit.
As such, I recommend that we have different kinds of managers throughout the organization.
Some of those executives and leadership teams will be execution-focused whilst others are innovation-focused.
Each skill set is valuable, in the context of the opportunity being exploited by the organization, but requires different leadership styles, approaches, and degrees of engagement.
Each leadership focus requires different traits, characteristics, and behaviours to be effective.
There are a lot of limiting beliefs in traditional management that can greatly impede progress, especially in the innovation and product development space, so it isn’t a great fit.
Agile leaders and executives would feel constrained, frustrated, and greatly hamstrung if they were to operate within the narrow constraints of a traditional management and efficiency framework, so that isn’t a great fit either.
So, in closing, I would recommend that you identify which areas of the organization need to be efficiency and management-focused, and assign the appropriate and relevant managers to those sections, whilst at the same time identifying which areas of the organization would benefit from agile and nurture executive agility and agile leadership capabilities in that space.
A Dual Operating System.
About John Coleman
John Coleman has deep experience and expertise working with executives, #leadership teams and product development teams to achieve increased #businessagility and create environments where creativity and collaboration produce high-performance teams.
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