Middle Management – Catalyst or Inhibitor?

Overview

End of 2020 was quiet interesting for me.
I got the chance of taking a Professional Agile Leadership training that was done online and not within Indonesia time zone.
I took the training by Ron Eringa in Europe time zone – in winter.
Which means the training was done at 3PM – 11PM Indonesia time.
At first I was thinking that I will be sleepy, bored and started to think “why did I enroll for this in the beginning?” 😀
It took me by surprise that I didn’t feel all that at all, in fact I think that taking that training is a great investment.

Here in this article I will share some of the stories about it, my takeaways (or my view) and preparation for the test.
Enjoy 🙂

Why I Took The Training

I knew Scrum since 2015 and became a Scrum Master in 2016 and I love being one.
Together with some other Agile Champions in the organization, we started introducing the new way of working across the organization in 2018.
That was definitely a full of excitement moments. We are still doing it until now.

In the end of 2019, I was trusted to take another role (without leaving the role as a Scrum Master and Change Agent), the role was an Engineering Manager.

In this new role, my perspective became wider.
Engineering Manager is what people call “middle management” role.
I see the challenges that middle management has in the organization especially in how they put themselves in the agile environment.

For me who is a change agent, I don’t find huge gap in taking both roles, but I do see some of my peers had challenges. Especially the ones that not really involve in Agility.

I was planning on taking SPS (Scaled Professional Scrum) in 2020 to support my role in coaching a nexus team, but I chose PAL first because I saw more challenges there.

My expectation was to be able to help my peers in how they fit in the new way of working and as well as learning from the expert to see what can be improved from myself.

Middle Management As Agility Catalyst

I heard a lot of opinions that say

  • middle management doesn’t have place in agility
  • middle management kills agility
  • middle management lost touch (not to say control) on the team member
  • middle management doesn’t know the progress of his team member that work in scrum teams
  • middle management only dealing with administrative stuff since all the things now handled by scrum teams.
  • etc

Well I disagree.
I would say that middle management is actually the catalyst of agility.

In many organizations, middle management are the ones who have the better influence to the organization.
These people have better helicopter view on the direction of the organization.

In regards to the employees, middle management are usually hierarchical managers too, which means they are the one who will take care of career path, salary progression and upskilling of their team member.

Having said that, they are actually in the very strategic position in making agility better. To be the agility catalyst.

Now what are the things that middle management need to do or have to become the agility catalyst?
I list down some of them here based on my experience.
Could be more, could be not suitable for you 🙂
But here are my thought:

  • Unlearn! and Retrospect!

    Someone who had been a manager for let’s say 10 years, then this new way of working come into place, usually will struggle to adapt.

    These kind of people need to have different perspective on this new way of working. Unlearn what you knew and try to learn new things, experiment new things.
    Enrich your knowledge about agility, servant-leadership, coaching, etc.

    Once you try something new, keep on retrospect yourself. See what are other things that you can improve.

    Look at this new way of working as an opportunity and not a burden or threat.

  • Collaborate

    Let’s imagine that you have a lot of report lines, and those people are part of some scrum teams.
    How can you as their manager make them deliver valuable product?
    How can you as their manager ensure they upskill themselves?
    How can you as their manager help them with their challenges?

    Collaboration is the key here!

    Work together with the scrum masters and product owners.
    Share your helicopter view to them.
    Communicate with them for challenges that the team have and whether you need to do something to help them get over the hump.
    Even better, use your influence to help them with their (SM and PO) challenges.

    Make them friends, not foe.
    We are on the same ship!

  • Be a coach

    Have more discussions with your team member.
    Find out what their challenges are and help them to come up with the solution by themselves.
    Most managers have the tendency to tell and give solution when his team member comes with challenges.
    This definitely not make your team member mature.

    You need to empower them.
    Not command and control them.
    Help them to see the potential inside them.
    Sometimes it takes a while for them to come up with something. It’s okay. It’s a learning process.
    But trust me, when they come up with the solution they believed in, the result will be more remarkable then if you just feed them with the fish.

  • Set the environment.
    What kind of environment?
    – A safe to fail environment.
    – A trust base environment.
    – An open to different opinion and diversity of thought environment.
    – A collaborative environment.
    – An environment where feedback is treasured.

When you have that in you, I would say you’re on the right direction in becoming the agility catalyst.
Soon or later you will see that you are actually playing an important role in agility.

All you need to do is start by unlearn and retrospect.

The PAL Exam

Well compared to PSM 1, PSM 2 and PSPO, in my opinion this one is “easier”.
It was a 60 minutes test with 36 questions.
Not much of long questions like in PSM 2 there. Mostly straight to the point questions.

Some suggestions for the preparation and doing of the test are:

  • Understand the underlying concept of Agility
  • Read the scrum guide (well, 🙂 obviously)
  • Be ideal! Especially if you are working in the organization that is not Scrum Nirvana 😀
    Always go back to the scrum guide and agile mindset.
  • Do all the open assessment in scrum.org.
    Not only the PAL but also PSM, PSPO, Nexus, EBM.
  • Read the books in Suggested Reading for PAL (frankly I didn’t read all)
  • If you’re a scrum practitioner, I really advise you to revisit your understanding by going through the basic of scrum again.
  • Do the test and passed! 😀

Conclusion

Certificate is just a piece of paper.
The real “battle” is how you put yourself as a catalyst for your organization to live in their agility. How to make yourself valuable to a greater good.

There’s no silver bullet there and it’s not a flip of a hand effort.

Be a CATALYST, not INHIBITOR 🙂

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