Micro-Management - Under the Guise of Agile

by HSG on May 21, 2019 in

Being treated like a twelve year old at work by a Tasmanian-devil-manager and not sure what to do about it? It is simply a well-known fact that no one likes to be micro managed. Not only do they not like to be micro managed, but tend to quit for this very reason. Unfortunately the percentage of people leaving their jobs for this reason is higher that you would imagine. Recently, an employee retention report conducted by TINYpulse, an employee engagement firm, surveyed 400 full-time U.S. employees concluded that, "supervisors can make or break employee retention."

As companies mature, their ability to manage can be significant to their bottom line as employee morale, high staff turnover and the cost of training new employees can easily reduce productivity and consequently client satisfaction.  In many cases, there is a thin line between effective managing and micro managing practices. Most managers avoid micro managing their employees. However, a decent percentage of them have yet to find effective ways to get the most of their co-workers.  They trap themselves by disempowering people's ability to do their work when they hover over them and create an unpleasant working environment. This behavior may come in the form of incessant emailing, everything having to be done a certain way (their way), desk hovering, and a need to control every part of an enterprise, no matter how small.

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Superimpose the micro manager into the popular practice of Agile-SCRUM methodology and you can imagine the creative ways they can monitor everything in a team, situation, or place. Although, not always a bad thing, excessive control, can lead to burnout of managers and teams alike.  As predicted, agile project management has become increasingly popular in the last couple of decades in project planning, particularly in software development.  Agile methodology when put into practice, especially in IT, can mean releasing faster functional software than with the traditional development methods. When done right, it enables users to get some of the business benefits of the new software faster as well as enabling the software team to get rapid feedback on the software's scope and direction.

Despite its advantages, most organizations have not been able to go “all agile” at once. Rather, some experiment with their own interpretation of agile when transitioning.  A purist approach for instance, can lead to an unnecessarily high agile project failure, especially for those that rely on tight controls, rigid structures and cost-benefit analysis.  As an example, a premature and rather rapid replacement of traditional development without fully understating the implications of the changeover process or job roles within the project results in failure for many organizations.  

Agile project management is broken into a few key parts, with expectations within the roles:

The Project Manager: responsible for setting project goals, addressing scope, and prioritizing the status of deliverables.

The Scrum Master: responsible for guiding the team and ensuring that any potential project impairments are dealt with in a timely manner.

The Teammate: responsible for the majority of the basic, day to day work - follows the directives of the Scrum Master and Project Manager to ensure that the product is developed and delivered on track with the scope of the project.

In a perfect world, this seems like an ideal setup - a system of tiers dividing responsibilities.  For participants, this means that the roles are clearly defined and individual team members would know their part in the project scope and would be responsible for keeping the flow of a project moving smoothly. And, again, when done right, it can be highly productive and effective for participants and the company in a timely manner.

However, in many cases, this is not how this form of project management is often practiced. Instead of a tier of reporting that ensures each individual part of the team works together to get a project complete, individuals end up inevitably being micro managed - the Project Manager dictates how and when the project is completed to the Scrum Master, who then details to the Team Members exactly how to carry out their job, and how long each section of the job should take in order to ensure that the project is completed based on the instructions set by the Project Manager.

Ultimately, this becomes a game of micro management, with little freedom to complete a task in any way other than the one dictated to you. Since no one likes the idea of being micro managed, having your boss, essentially, breathe down your neck as you complete a project will often reduce your morale. After all, individuals often crave some form of creative freedom in their work - feeling as though they are trapped in a small box of expectations create anxiety and unease. 

A drop in morale often leads to lower quality work, more hostility, and higher absenteeism, among other things. When people feel as though their every move is being dictated, or as though they are being forced to complete work in a way that goes against their personal preferences, consistently, the work they produce will be lower quality, as they are less likely to pay attention to detail. This often increases the project time line, as work must be redone, reconsidered or scrapped. 

While there are several common causes for project failures, one of the top causes, if not the leading cause is the lack of an agile ready culture. It's to everyone's benefit to identify the players and properly match them with activities. Trusting in people's abilities gives them a sense of pride and when people feel pride, their work reflects their talents.  Part of being an effective management is to be able to provide constructive feedback with employees.  When you ask questions of your employees, you’re giving them the chance to learn and share their ideas, you’re reinforcing that you have confidence in them, and you’re establishing a win-win relationship.

Steve Job's take on working with smart people?

“It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”  Steve Jobs

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