Agile processes often enter the organization from the grass roots – from the developers appreciating useful practices and insightful low level managers seeking for ways to help their subordinates. However, if things progress well, at some point the top management might buy the idea of delivering incremental software faster, than the competition, and declare “we are going Agile” or even “we are going AGILE“. While the top management support is something to appreciate, there is still a number of issues to be aware of, when restructuring mid to large size organizations. One of the most important changes is the potential career ladder restructuring.
Whole team mindset
The thing is that while all the agile processes value specialists of any kind ( DBAs, architects, testers, UI designers, etc.), the cross-functional team is a corner stone of all the agile methods. This cross-functionality means whole team commitment to the goals and consequently it means the need for team members to cover each other. Architect is expected to help the UI designer, when UI guy is overloaded. Tester is expected to discuss the testability of a feature right, when it is being designed. Experienced specialist is expected to help the technical writer, when documentation is the current bottleneck. And all the mentioned things are to happen not once a year, but several timer per iteration (several times per 2-4 weeks) at the very least.
Career path break
Now imagine an architect or “team lead” who invested ten years of his life into becoming a good architect or lead. His progress was typically measured by how little he has to touch the code (“no time for coding” as we usually say), how many windows are in his office, how precise his documents are, how well he manages the task list and how well he commands his team. Now suddenly he is called just a “team member” without any extra authority, has to do testing, documentation and the team is declared being “self-managing”?!
What’s worse, there is no project manager role in most of the agile processes. No single project manager role at all. The responsibilities of the project manager certainly don’t go away, but are moved into several roles:
– self-managing team,
– product owner – the one who prioritizes the features, but is not allowed to say how to do them and cannot change his priorities every couple of days (though can do it freely every 2-4 weeks)
– facilitator (Scrum Master in Scrum, Coach in eXtreme Programming). This facilitator role has absolutely nothing to do with command’n’control, but more with helping the team to resolve conflicts and with helping it to remove obstacles (e.g. he helps with arranging a projects room, buying new monitors, etc).
Conflict of interests
Looking at the transformation level expected, I doubt that the high job-graded specialists and especially the project managers could have a lot of motivation for going Agile. Even if we introduce changes gradually. If I was PM, I would probably think twice before going to really support the Agile thing. Even if being a product owner or Scrum Master is a lot of fun AND money, there is still a lot of hard learning on the way.
I am not sure about the possible resolution for this conflict of interests. Maybe it is exactly the moment when the HR team can extend a helping hand to the whole organization by exploring what other companies did in similar situations and helping to clarify the career options in the world of Agile.
Dear readers, do you think there is a career conflict between the traditional situation and the agile stuff? Was or would your career be in danger? Should the project manager be worried?