Monday, March 16, 2015

Manage, Lead, or Coach

I'm in the software development business. Software development in corporations is a team sport, and most teams aren't very good. For the past 25 years, here in the Dallas, Texas, area I've seen the same companies and organizations (at least the ones that are still in business) flounder around while trying to build better software. A lot of the companies I worked with 15 and 20 years ago are gone. Bankrupt. Obsolete. Merged. Acquired. They became irrelevant, or simply couldn't keep up with the pace of change in the technology marketplace. The few companies that are still around aren't doing that much better at building software. Building large software systems is incredibly complex.

Over the past 10-15 years, a new way of thinking has emerged in software development. This new way of thinking is frequently called "Agile" which is an umbrella term for building software in a manner different from the traditional "Waterfall" style. I'm already in the weeds here, so let me back up. The principles of Agile software development are just that - principles. Solomon was right: "There is nothing new under the sun." Agile isn't new, as much as it is taking good principles and applying them differently. Some of the distinctives of Agile thinking are around management, leadership, and coaching. I read this in a LinkedIn post, and thought it was insightful enough to put here so I can go back and reference it. I know some of the industry jargon below might not make sense to those not in the Agile world, but the principles are still applicable. (Note: Scrum is a style of Agile practice.)

Question: So, How does a Scrum Master coach and not Manage?


When I get asked this question, I usually respond:
  • A leader tells you what we're doing and why we're doing it.
  • A manager tells you what to do and how to do it.
  • A coach shows you how to do it and why it's important.
In most organizations, people are under-led and over-managed. That is to say, they get told a lot of what to do and how to do it, but not given the benefit of context (the why). The result is people feel demotivated and may not fully engage with the task at hand. Also, the micromanagement style (I know how to do this better than you, so I'm going to tell you how I want you to do it) is a problem that prevents Scrum from taking hold in many organizations.

When you think about coaching, it's not just teaching the how and the why. It is also offering support. The biggest difference between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager is that the Project Manager works for the stakeholders, and the Scrum Master works for the team. The Project Manager says, "We're behind schedule guys, we're gonna need to work extra hours" then gets a pat on the back for "cracking the whip." The Scrum Master says, "I will relentlessly own anything that is in the way of us reaching our goal, and I will do anything to help make the team more successful."

Servant Leadership is not the same as Management

Answer courtesy of Tirrell Payton.

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