Changing the perception of “manager”

In agile it is often counterproductive to use the title of “manager” for any role. Manager tends to imply command and control which is just not present in an agile environment. I often have teams struggle with this basic concept. Managers understand that they don’t get to manage the same way, but they struggle with how to think of themselves if they aren’t using the dreaded “manager” word. The problem is more one of terminology than anything else, so let’s explore a few possibilities I’ve either used or heard used by others:

1. “supporter” Instead of the word manager in a role, use the word supporter. For example, a Project Supporter, a Development Supporter, a QA Supporter, etc. I think this generally gives the right connotation. I like it because it forces people to think how to give support from their role rather than how to lead from their role.

2. “master” Ugh! Something that’s actually worse than manager! I put this one here because I’m not so sure I like the role Scrum Master. I like what the role is supposed to do, but the name of the role could use some help.

3. “mentor” I could live with this one. Project Mentor, Development Mentor, QA Mentor. Those all sound good to me. Unfortunately I’m not sure the people that think of themselves as managers always have the proper skill set to be mentors.

4. “shepherd” This one is interesting. It implies some leadership, but at the same time has undercurrents of someone that would let the team make their own decisions and solve their own problems. Project Shepherd, Development Shepherd and QA Shepherd. Not bad. Additionally it seems the people in these roles would shelter their teams from outside issues, which is also something I like.

5. “champion” Another interesting one. Project Champion, Development Champion, QA Champion. Definitely implies a bit about leadership. It also implies something deeper though – representation of that function. Much like a knight could be a champion for a princess in a joust, the Development Champion is the person that represents development in ways that go beyond just being a member of the team. Net Objectives has used the term Product Champion instead of Product Owner for quite a while, and I like that term as well.

This was all written in a bit of stream of consciousness mode based on some conversations I heard today. As a result I haven’t really given them a lot of thought yet. What do you think? Are there other words you think could be used? Do you have a favorite among the ones I listed? Be sure to let me know!

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Bob Hartman

Known as Agile Bob, brings over 30 years of experience and broad industry knowledge cultivated by serving in almost every role in the software industry including developer, tester, documentation writer, trainer, product manager, project manager, business analyst, senior software engineer, development manager and executive. Over the past 15 years Bob has grown from being an early adopter of Agile to his current status as a Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST) and Certified Enterprise Coach℠ (CEC) and an expert in training, coaching and mentoring across all areas of Agile development. Bob is a popular speaker, having spoken at numerous major conferences, seminars, workshops and user group meetings where his engaging style, holistic view of development and personal anecdotes are always well received by attendees.

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