Middle Management in Flux
I sometimes talk to middle managers who started their Agile journey some years ago and are unhappy with the results: “In the beginning it all felt so easy and natural. Everyone was motivated and joined in. But somehow we lost the track when we grew and we seem to have fallen back to our old habits.”
If you start changing an organization toward an Agile mindset, there’s no real end. Agile is about creating an organization of continuous learning and the transformation is done when there is nothing new to learn, which will probably be never.
This puts an enormous challenge on middle management. In most organizations, lower management is responsible for actual delivery, upper management is responsible for keeping the organization prepared for the future, and middle management is responsible for stabilizing the organization.
Now continuous learning means that the organization is continuously in flux while the traditional tools of middle management are designed to prevent flux. This doesn’t mean that we don’t need middle managers anymore. Whoever is making that claim probably hasn’t understood its role. However, tools and mindset need to change dramatically.
The traditional tools of middle management are operational and organizational structures, role definitions, and centralized processes. There are huge investments in these structures and they’re usually defined as though there would be one best solution and the structures would never change. In learning organizations, these structures usually change faster than they take for design.
Consider shared services as an example. Generally, in larger organizations you find services that are best shared between several teams, value streams, or services. Security or user experience are good candidates. However, whether one of your security experts would better be working in the security team or in this large customer interface value stream is not clear — and may even change over time. And whether you really need a dedicated security team at all, or whether a community of service would be the better choice, is something you can find out only through experimentation. And again, this may change over time.
Agile provides you with the tools you need to run such experiments and to provide transparency about where experiments are needed. The most important tools are the feedback meetings defined in all Agile approaches, such as retrospectives, inspect and adapt meetings, or the seven Kanban cadences. This is where the need for experiments is detected, the experiments are defined, and their results are evaluated. In contrast to traditional organizations, this is usually done by all the people affected and not just by a small round of managers or method specialists.
Agile also defines a set of tools to create transparency about where action is needed. Kanban’s blocker clustering is probably one of the most advanced tools, but impediment backlogs as used by some organizations doing Scrum can also provide valuable insights, given that they are consistently used in larger retrospectives.
All this doesn’t happen on its own. The role of middle management in Agile organizations is to make sure the learning loop remains effective on all levels. It’s not only that the teams do retrospectives, but also that an overall structure of transparency and adaptive actions is maintained.
In situations like the one I initially described, we often learn that everyone was so focused on processes and structures that the growing team lost its ability to inspect and adapt — the feedback structures have not grown with the number of people.
The new role of middle management in Agile organizations is to ensure that the organization keeps on learning and adapting. This is not easy, and you need to grow toward a catalytic leader to fulfil this responsibility. But it’s far more rewarding than enforcing defined but dysfunctional central processes.
This issue focuses on key topics of interest for financial services organizations, namely equity crowdfunding, legacy systems migration, robo-advisors, test outsourcing, and refining the reconciliation process.
This Advisor presents an overview of improving Agile techniques and practices by using design thinking within the Agile space and describes three techniques from design thinking methodologies that tend to yield benefits to Agile practitioners.
The existence of a digital backbone in an organization means that anyone aspiring and planning to transform different parts of the enterprise can leverage the digital backbone in a consistent and sustainable way, ensuring that each transformation effort connects and leverages a common platform. Digital transformation leaders are starting to realize that a powerful digital services backbone to facilitate rapid innovation and responsiveness is key to successfully executing on a digital strategy.
Can a method like EVM, developed to control projects with well-defined objectives, be applied to control product development initiatives that evolve continuously toward a “moving target”? In an Agile environment, we are faced with the dynamic evolution of a finite boundary of integrated scope, cost, time, and resources; this finiteness — essential for business management and decisions — is the cradle for project management techniques, tools, methods, and frameworks. The EVM method was first developed to help with managing complex R&D projects mostly characterized by an unstable, volatile, and evolving scope. It is therefore no surprise that EVM applies to Agile projects.
It’s a pleasure for me to introduce the first of two special issues of Cutter Business Technology Journal (CBTJ) showcasing the thought leadership and cutting-edge research and development (R&D) being done in State Street Corporation’s Advanced Technology Centres in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) and Asia Pacific (APAC), in partnership with University College Cork (UCC) and Zhejiang University (ZJU), respectively. The articles in this issue represent a small sample of the output from the R&D undertaken in these centers, which combine academic excellence with real industry impact.
Every business must deal with crisis, risk, and compliance challenges. Teams chartered with addressing these challenges are often split across business units and regions, which fragments crisis, risk, and compliance management efforts. Business unit silos and related complexities obscure ecosystem transparency, which in turn constrain an organization’s ability to identify risks, assure compliance, and prevent and disarm crises. Business architecture delivers business ecosystem transparency as a basis for improving a business’s ability to collectively address challenges related to crisis, risk, and compliance.
Organizations are using blockchain to create new business models — exploiting its capabilities for optimizing contract management, financial transaction management, and identity management.
For technology-dependent products, companies, institutions, and even societies, sustainability depends on learning how to manage technical debt. Like most transformations, incorporating new practices into our organizations will likely be an iterative process. We already recognize the problem, and researchers are making progress, albeit mostly on technical issues. This Executive Update proposes a policy-centered approach to the problem. It begins with a principle that can serve as a guide for constructing technical debt management policy, and then shows how to apply that principle to develop nine recommendations that enable organizations to manage technical debt effectively.
Agile methodologies, however popular they are, bring their own sets of “smells” and anti-patterns to the table, sometimes causing irreparable damage to the team. While the sources of these smells are many, one of the primary culprits is the mindset that treats Agile as “yet another methodology,” totally ignoring the cultural aspect. This article throws light on some of the prominent smells that are emerging of late in the Agile world.
If you start changing an organization toward an Agile mindset, there’s no real end. Agile is about creating an organization of continuous learning and the transformation is done when there is nothing new to learn, which will probably be never. This puts an enormous challenge on middle management.
The articles in this issue present perspectives and ideas on business transformation in the digital age. We hope they will inspire and encourage you to visualize the likely future of business in your domain and to explore the opportunities it presents. Finally, we hope their insights will help you identify suitable transformation strategies and plans and, if needed, choose viable collaboration models for partnering with startups and other firms in your digital business efforts.
Beyond buzzwords, what we are seeing is a seismic shift in the role of technology in organizations. Technology is more and more embedded in everything we do as we move into an increasingly hyper-connected digital world, a world in which technology is driving significant social, organizational, and industry change.
In this on-demand webinar, you'll discover the strategic and tactical opportunities made possible by Digital Data Streams and the opportunities for improved customer experience made possible by DDS.
At the Cutter Digital Transformation & Innovation Bootcamp, Cutter Fellow and Harvard Business School Professor Karim Lakhani talked about digitally-driven disruption of traditional business models for value creation and capture, discussing platform models like Facebook and Twitter. To date, Twitter has clearly done a good job “creating value.” But unlike Facebook, it continues to struggle with the capture part of the equation.
Social collaboration is not about technology. It’s about connecting people, and it’s changing the way business is being conducted. Similarly, gamification is not about games. It’s about motivating the personal and professional behaviors that drive business value. Together, social collaboration and gamification help companies reap great benefits — among them, the ability to deepen customer relationships, drive operational efficiencies, and optimize their workforce.
Roadmaps have two key functions in strategy planning. The first is to outline planned architectural changes that will deliver the required strategies; the second is to outline alternative ways to achieve the same results.
Just as recent global events have given us reason to pause and reflect, the pace of technology emergence and disruption is proving to be a source of inspiration and uncertainty. Transitioning to a digital world is front-of-mind for many business executives, yet finding the right path is an ongoing challenge. So we asked Cutter’s team of experts for their insights on some of the technologies, trends, and strategies that will be relevant in 2017 and beyond. In typical Cutter Business Technology Journal fashion, our call produced a wide range of opinions and reflections worthy of consideration as you chart your business technology journey for the new year.
Artificial general intelligence (AGI) is currently emerging as an area where recent developments are likely to have a major impact on the way organizations do business, societies organize themselves, and even on how we address values and ethics.
The fact is that AGI already exists in our daily life. A common example is the GPS systems present in many new cars manufactured today; and let’s not forget the drones being used to deliver pizzas and cars that drive themselves. While automatic pilots have been used in commercial planes for quite some time, what AGI is about to offer to general business and human activity is well beyond what most of us have seen so far.
2017 is going to be a year of strange winners, and perhaps the strangest of all will be a giant leap away from technology and back to solutions that don’t rely on 24/7 connectivity. With the onslaught of major hacks and Facebook embarrassment, the antitech crowd may have its best year in decades.
One of the most prevalent blockchains in the world, Ethereum, is poised to switch from a proof-of-work (POW) algorithm to a proof-of-stake (POS) algorithm, likely in 2017, with the release of the Casper codebase. Why does this matter? Because blockchain technology is becoming increasingly relevant and prevalent in businesses across the globe. It holds great potential to disrupt how businesses perform basic transactions, from payments, to programmable, self-executing contracts, to identity verification.