I still hear many agile coaches saying “we are agile – we don’t need managers. And there is no description for them in the Scrum Guide”, and I am afraid this attitude has led to bad behavior on both sides of this issue. I maintain that managers – and I mean anybody who manages people or work – are indispensable to a successful agile adoption. Indeed, they are absolutely key to its success.

 This session will present a framework for decision-making in a management context, and seven pairs of principles that form the backbone of how a manager in the agile paradigm should behave in this era of increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity--a condition for which the US Army coined the acronym VUCA.

Before we get into the meat of this session, we need to put it into the context of management work. Managers operate in an area of various shades of grey – that is, almost nothing is fixed, and applying a set of rules for everyone and everything is not practical. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) are the order of a managers work, necessitating flexible decision-making appropriate to the situation. We also investigate the core skills managers and other leaders must practice to make an agile transformation successful and sustainable.

The framework I will discuss is drawn from the Greek approach to Arete (translates as both “excellence” and “virtue”). For the Greeks, virtues (aka, excellence) were optimized when you achieved “the golden mean” between two vices: For example, eating virtuously is a behavior that fits between self-starving and gluttony. The golden mean is not the average distance between the two extremes but the proper position for a given person at a given time. Therefore, the exact position will change over time, and perhaps from situation to situation, and understanding this paradox helps us make better decisions in their own context.

Now we can move to understanding the sets of behaviors that managers need to exhibit, and investigate how we apply them in our daily work. These behaviors are as follows:

Invite over Demand

Respond over Perfect

Enable over Control

Learn over Know

Share over Protect

Listen over Speak

Clarify over Correct

Using the previously-described framework, we will use these principles to discuss how, when, and where they apply. For example, even though we say we do not want to “demand” behavior, it is sometimes apropriate (e.g. “do not steal from the company”). But what else – in your context – should be demanded, and what behaviors tend more towards inviting others to use them?

 Managers are key to successful agile adoption, so out of this discussion, I hope to arm each manager in the room with a set – their own set – of behaviors and approaches they can take back to their workplace, for daily use, and the ability to flex these behaviors based on the situation they find themselves in.


This session will consist of a presentation, plus several table-talk exercises (if the location is conducive to this), where each table discusses one of the above pairs of principles. This allows the participants to understand their context, and the context of others in managing in a VUCA world.

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Outline/structure of the Session

This is primarily a talk, but if the room is arranged in a suitable way (e.g. round tables, grouping of chairs) I will use "table topic" exercises to allow discussion in small groups, using scenarios to illustrate the necessary flexibility of agile management.

Learning Outcome

Encouraging attendees to become more flexible in their outlook when dealing with "their people"

Providing a set of tools to allow movement from command and control to facilitation and support

Target Audience

Functional managers, Project Managers, HR personnel, others in a leadership capacity



schedule Submitted 4 weeks ago

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  • George Dinwiddie
    By George Dinwiddie  ~  5 days ago
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    Hi, Paul,

    The description is for enticing conference-goers to attend the session. Much of what you have there seems better suited for the structure/outline section. Even then, as a reviewer, there's not enough detail about the session contents and mechanics to judge it fairly.

     - George