Agile methodologies rule the software development world nowadays, and one of their goals is to build self-organized teams for every project. Of course, that raises the question of whether relying on self-organized teams will leave managers out of a job. If a team is capable of performing the work on their own, why would we need managers at all?
Part of this concern likely comes from the general uncertainty and opacity about a manager’s actual role and responsibilities. So before we answer the question, let’s give a brief overview what the role entails.
The Role of Manager
The manager first steps in when the project begins. She reviews the parameters of the project, including the budget, timeline, and business goals. Then, she makes requests for resources and decides on the framework for development.
From the very first kick-off call with the client, the manager is in charge of ensuring the development progresses in accordance with both the initial plan and the client’s vision. This includes preparing and maintaining project milestones and project plans, which include guidelines for communication management, change management, scope management, quality management, and other parameters.
The manager keeps the team on track, setting tasks, planning onboarding, and coordinating further activities. After a project’s initiation and planning phase is over and the main development phase is started, the manager monitors and controls the work, and keeps the client abreast of progress. This means preparing internal and external reports, scheduling and facilitating all meetings between the team and the client, and acting as an intermediary between the product owner and the team. In Agile methodologies, most meetings require preparation: choosing user stories for planning, thinking over the best way to demo the increment during sprint review, and inventing fun ways to hold a retrospective to keep team members engaged.
Managers are there to challenge the team. Which extra benefits can be delivered to the client? How can the process be improved? Is it possible to provide the deliverables faster, or use a cutting-edge technology to make the product more innovative and appealing?
One of the manager’s duties that takes a lot of time is supporting the team: answering their questions about requirements (and knowing which of those queries to redirect to the client) and coaching them on the chosen methodology. While the team members are focused on their individual tasks — coding, testing, or preparing designs — the manager always keeps in mind the customer’s needs and the value the project will bring in the end. Those two focal points guide the way the manager assists the team and makes decisions.
People management is also the manager’s responsibility. Who will resolve interpersonal conflicts and ensure the growth of each employee if not the project manager? Team motivation depends on multiple factors, from the comfort of the office and personal workspaces to the regularity of the feedback and the level of interaction among team members, both in the office and after work. It is the manager’s job to closely monitor the team’s satisfaction with the enivornment and the work and make adjustments if needed.
Finally, the manager assesses risks and controls their mitigation. She needs to remove all impediments in the workflow and act as a safeguard for the team, preventing scope creep. After the project is complete, the manager needs to gather closeout statistics and prepare the final report.
So, Is the Manager Necessary
You could say, “Why can’t we delegate all responsibilities of the manager to other team members? Anyone can prepare reports or hold meetings.” However, if you think that, you’re most likely failing to see the forest for the trees.
The Journal of Applied Psychology published a review stating that most people are comfortable with a clear leader, especially in times of crisis.
Management requires a certain set of skills. Undervaluation of these skills, or believing that anyone who is good at what they do – developers, testers, or business analysts – can be as successful as a trained manager in taking the lead is a mistake. Leaving management roles to someone who’s focused on other parts of the project can lead to issues going unresolved for months because nobody’s confident making a decision, or to stakeholders being uninformed about the course of the project because no one on the team has expertise in organizing smooth communication flow.
The main idea behind the project manager’s role is to have a person who is responsible for the success of the project and has final say as far as decision making is concerned. Hierarchy and structure secure more effective team coordination, while self-organized teams are likely to spend much more time on discussions and consensus building than action.
But remember that being accountable to a manager doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible, innovative, or creative. Hierarchy and autonomy are not antonyms; it just takes a smart leader to organize the flow so that these two concepts work together.
Long live the managers!