Avoiding the Middle Management Diffusion Layer & Other Ideas…

March 5, 20242 min

How do you run an Agile team when the surrounding environment is decidedly non-Agile, i.e. the rest of the organization has not adopted the Agile Mindset and still retains the Industrial Mindset (waterfall)?  This was a topic of discussion in a recent Lean Coffee session and here are four key ideas from that conversation.

  1. Educate leaders and sponsors: make sure that senior leaders, executives and sponsors clearly understand the Agile Mindset, the goals they are trying to achieve by adopting the Agile Mindset and what they need to do to support this change.  Too many leaders think “going Agile” is making a decision and writing a check for consultants and training.  Most fail to appreciate this sort of change required their sustained commitment and attention.  The helpful hint here is to begin this conversation about the Agile Mindset and the concrete goals the organization wants to achieve early with leaders, ideally before you even start down the Agile road.
  2. Anticipate resistance from the middle management: once the senior leaders and executives understand the need for change, most get behind the decision and support the new way of working.  Then something peculiar happens – nothing.  The energy, drive and momentum from the executive suite hits what I call the “middle management diffusion layer.”  The middle managers – for whatever reason – simply decide not to implement the executive direction or slow walk the implementation. IME, the middle management diffusion layer is where energy goes to die and where most Agile transitions stall out.  To help you avoid this common scenario, the helpful hint is to anticipate the likely pockets of resistance in middle management and take time to listen to their concerns.
  3. Let legacy contracts expire: most contracts with vendors and outside partners were written using the Industrial Mindset.  This means until these legacy contracts expire and\or can be renegotiated, the Agile environment you are trying to create will have a big, Industrial anchor holding it back.  The helpful hint here is to review your contracts to see when they expire.  When they expire, renegotiate them to be more Agile.  This whitepaper from a legitimate law firm gives some ideas on how to write an Agile contract.  I highly recommend it.
  4. Rethink your staffing\resource plans: most staffing\resource plans were created with the assumption that people are fungible, interchangeable and work best when organized by specialities.  This way, at least on paper, a single individual’s utilization in their area of speciality can be optimized to nearly 100%.  The goal to utilize someone’s time at 100% is pure Industrial Mindset and, unfortunately, that never works, e.x. any Southern California freeway at rush hour.  The helpful hint here is to build staffing plans which focus on dedicated teams and have built in slack to accommodate the unexpected.