Functional Managers in Agile

As an organization transforms to an agile way of working, functional managers (e.g. a dev manager or a test manager) can feel lost. Many of their traditional responsibilities move to other roles or disappear altogether.

How can functional managers continue to add value in an agile organization? Here are a few ideas…

  1. Build a community of practice for the function across multiple agile teams. This allows lessons learned by the testers on one team to spread to testers on the others. It makes it more natural for developers on one team to seek help from developers on another.
  2. Provide training and other skill development opportunities and resources across teams.
  3. Take a strategic view on the function. Look across multiple teams’ product road maps and evaluate how well the current skills and knowledge match future needs. Take steps to fix any gaps (i.e. through training, hiring, etc.).
  4. Help team members, HR, etc. align functional, team, and organizational measurements, goals, etc. For example, agile teams often see the best results when team members are willing to work across specialties as needed. But traditional metrics and goals might penalize a developer for helping with testing. Functional managers can help break down these disincentives to collaboration.
  5. Continue to take care of personnel responsibilities such as performance reviews, hiring, and firing. However, because functional managers are likely to have less direct, day-to-day interaction with employees, they need more input from Scrum team members to do these than they might have in the past.

Are you a functional manager in an agile organization? How has your role changed? How do you add value now? Share in the comments.

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  1. I have seen this sad power struggle between scrum masters and functional managers. A lot of that is because somebody perpetuated the idea that functional managers cannot be part of the scrum team. The reality is that in a scrum team, you play your scrum role and outside you play your functional role.

  2. Functional manager is not a role at all. There is no such role and if it is there it is a useless role. The role demands that functional manager be outside the scrum team and what that means is that he/she is not aware of what the team/team members are doing on a day-to-day basis. How can you do performance review of someone when you don’t know what is contribution? This is absurd.
    This role should be removed from agile terminology.

  3. The Functional Manager has many ways to evaluate an individual’s performance. First, they may attend the Scrum Meetings as chickens. They will, as they have always done, have ad-hock conversations with their employees. As the Functional Manager’s role changes into a coach instead of The Boss, they will help remove obstacles. They can clearly see who is raising the most critical obstacles and who is helping to resolve them.

    The Functional Manager also participates in the Planning meetings and can see who volunteers for work and who is getting work done. The Functional Manager also helps with Story Acceptance meetings and can see the work the engineers competed on a weekly basis.

    The Functional Manager will have regular one-on-one meetings with his/her direct reports.

    The Functional Manager at any time can open source code control and look directly at the code being produced by his/her employees.

    There are many venues for a Functional Manager to evaluate an employees performance outside of being part of the team or participating in their daily Scrum meetings.

    Hope that helps.

Richard Lawrence

Is co-owner of Agile For All. He trains and coaches teams and organizations to become happier and more productive. He draws on a diverse background in software development, engineering, anthropology, and political science. Richard is a Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach and Certified Scrum Trainer, as well as a certified trainer of the accelerated learning method, Training from the Back of the Room.

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