Middle Up Down Management

This section of the portal is for supporting the Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant Workshop (DAVSC), currently under development. Discussions on the pages here will take place on the Disciplined Agile LinkedIn group.


“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

Management plays an important role at all scales. While being a servant leader is important, that must come in the context of the big view of the organization. In essence the purpose of leadership is to facilitate the movement of organization to provide more value to its customer in a way that is consistent with its strategic vision.

This respects the ability of workers to self-direct and self-organize while creating an effective eco-system within which they can work. The measure of this effectiveness relates to how well it supports the quick realization of value to the organization’s customers. This requires, as Deming suggested, all the parts of the organization.

This is accomplished by MIDDLE management looking UP the value stream to see the vision of the organization.  They then look DOWN the value stream to see what they need.  Management then works with those doing to work to create an environment within which the vision can be manifested. This is called Middle-Up-Down Management.

  • Middle-Up-Down Management is described in Toward Middle-Up-Down Management: Accelerating Information Creation, Nonaka (1988). Although Nonaka co-authored the New New Product Development Game (1986), on which Scrum is based, Scrum ignores this foundational aspect of Lean management.
  • 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.

Middle managers fulfill this role by working with those doing the work.  They provide the overall view and can facilitate / coordinate moves beyond an individual teams capability. It’s a synthesis of overall structure and local function.

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 is the ‘owner’ of the new forms of leadership and work that it unleashes.

Tools for Managers

Other Resources

Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gap Between Plans, Actions and Results.  Short re-cap of this great book by Stephen Bungay.

Turn the Ship Around: A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders. David Marquet creates the leader-leader management paradigm.

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. This explains how true servant leadership is creating environments for teams to work well.