Path to Self-Managing?

They are also self-managing, meaning they internally decide who does what, when, and how.”

The 2020 Scrum Guide.

A team I was coaching in the use of Scrum asked me “What is the path to self-managing?”. What does it mean and what does it look like?

The 2020 version of the Scrum Guide changed self-organizing teams to self-managing teams. According to Jeff Sutherland, this change was made “to bring clarity to the concept and stop the weaponizing of self-organization as an excuse (by teams) to avoid meeting goals or commitments.” The change was meant to address the misconception by “… many Agile developers who view self-organizing as meaning they can do whatever they want.

The concept of self-organizing used in the previous Scrum Guide versions, is based on complex systems theory and complex adaptive systems (CAS). Within the context of CAS, self-organizing means no hierarchy of command and control, no planning, no managing. It does mean constant re-organizing to find the best fit with the environment through the process of emergence and feedback.

Based on the CAS definition of self-organizing, I can understand the desire to add some guardrails to the Scrum Guide expectations for Scrum teams. I just don’t know if using the term self-managing is any better. For one thing, it may have increased the resistance to Scrum teams from managers themselves who may view the term self-managing as an affront to their very existence. In one case, I had a senior leader doubt the feasibility of her Scrum teams to self-manage. She felt it would take a long time if ever, for that to happen. Perhaps an alternative to changing the self-organizing moniker would have been to keep it and double-down on tying it to the new Scrum commitments of Product Goal, Sprint Goal and Definition of Done.

Which brings me to a point I wish to make. Self-managing or self-organizing teams can only thrive if

  1. The teams want and are ready to self-manage or self-organize. Not all teams or team members are comfortable with the responsibilities and behaviours that come with self-managing or self-organizing.
  2. The managers want and are ready to support the teams’ desire to self-manage or self-organize. Not all managers are comfortable with letting go of the very responsibilities and behaviours that got them where they are.

The readiness of teams and management involves an understanding as to where each is currently and where each desires to be in future.

For teams, The Scrum framework provides an excellent bridge to go from current to desired states of self-managing.

It fills my bucket to be able to help both teams and managers on the path to self-managing.

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