Five tips for leading agile data management development teams

Moving from 'command and control' to 'communication and enablement'

devs hipster meeting
Credit: Goodluz

One of the principles behind the Agile Manifesto states:

The best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

This is a key success factor in agile data management, whether the team is developing a traditional data warehouse or any other type of enterprise data management solution.

Self-managing teams can be very effective due to the following factors:

  • Better, faster communication.
  • More trust between client and product team.
  • Less conflict.
  • Increased motivation.
  • Informed decision-making.

In my experience, self-managed teams make better decisions for the product and, therefore, for the business.

The traditional development team is organized hierarchically, with a manager in a directive role and business analysts, architects, developers and testers assigned to tasks and deliverables (all with specific roles).

Self-managing teams in an agile development environment, on the other hand, are cross-functional groups where individuals work together to manage the team workload, shift work among themselves based on need and best fit, and participate in team decision-making. Team members may play multiple roles, depending on what needs to get done. A self-managing team is not a free-for-all, as it has goals and objectives to meet to support the overall goals and objectives of the business. There is still a leader responsible and accountable for the team, but that leader is less directive and more supportive.

Although these teams are autonomous in terms of how they manage and carry out their work, they still require guidance from leaders within the organizational hierarchy. The leader provides the link between the wider organization and the self-managing team, empowering the team and also advocating on its behalf. The leader is still ultimately accountable for the successful team execution, and must be engaged at the right level to encourage success. Team members should be able to rely on the leader for coaching and advice. 

If you find yourself responsible for self-managing teams, you may struggle to find the appropriate balance. Your own manager may expect you to be more hands-on, while the team may resist any perceived interference.

This scenario is becoming more and more common. As a leader of self-managing teams, you need to develop a unique set of skills, moving from command-and-control to communication and enablement. 

Here are some tips for the successful creation and leadership of self-managing teams. These may seem common-sense to you, but they require a unique blend of engagement and empowerment that is a challenge to maintain.

1. Hire “A” players and empower them.

2. Create an enabling team structure.

3. Provide coaching and advice as needed.

4. Know the details, but don’t get into the details.

5. Show appreciation.

tips for leading self managing teams

Upcoming articles will expand upon these leadership tips and include examples from my own experiences leading self-managing teams.

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