The Role of Leadership and Management

“A system must be managed. It will not manage itself. Left to themselves, components become selfish, competitive, independent profit centers, and thus destroy the system … The secret is cooperation between components toward the aim of the organization.” —W. Edwards Deming

Leadership and management play an important role at all scales. While being a servant leader is important, it is also important to hold the big view of the organization. In essence the purpose of leadership is to create the direction the organization is moving in. The role of management is to help implement it.

In particular, the purpose of management is to create an organization in which the development/IT organization can autonomously implement this vision.  This respects the ability of workers to self-direct and self-organize while creating an effective eco-system within which they can work.  This is called Middle-Up-Down Management.

  • Middle-Up-Down Management is based on Nonaka (1988) (co-author of the New New Product Development Game (1986) on which Scrum is based
  • It balances the imperative to ‘process’ information in a mature organization with the need to create information in a fast-moving, learning organization
  • Middle management becomes the driving force for organizational change to meet the strategy of the business

In any organization, the layer of middle management, those who sit between the topmost strategic level and the level of the “gemba” (the place where the work is done), can be either the largest barrier to change or a true catalyst for improvement. In many Agile transformations, the role of middle management is not only undefined, they are cast as the antagonist to any productive change. This is counter-productive.

We believe that management, at both the strategic and middle/operational levels, has a key role to play both in transformation and in the ongoing success of the Lean-Agile organization. We subscribe to Nonaka’s vision of middle management as the place where strategic direction meets creative response. It is where strategy is shared downward and real-world learning is shared upward.

In our model of transformation, transformation itself becomes a part of the work to be done. Middle management becomes the focus of getting to done and are the ‘owners’ of the new forms of leadership and work that it unleashes.