Is Agile Micromanagement?
Updated: Jul 15, 2021
“I have to write all my tasks down!”
“I have to say what I’m working on every day!”
“Agile is micro-managing me!”
Agile Coaches preach empowerment. And yet people feel micromanaged in Agile. Where’s the disconnect?
Let’s start with some definitions:
Micromanagement: Overseeing and controlling work at a very detailed level.
Transparency: Team and Stakeholders have visibility to the work before it’s complete.
Frequent Feedback: Work is shared and feedback is incorporated early. Work is done in small chunks.
In order to get the benefits of transparency and frequent feedback, things become pretty granular.
Granularity is not always micromanagement. Sometimes it feels like granularity is micromanagement. Consider what you’re doing with the granularity. Are you being directed and evaluated by it? Or is it helping the team collaborate more? If it's being used for oversight, then yes, Agile might be used for a micromanagement tool. But if it’s for the team to collaborate and help each other, maybe it’s useful.
Is the level of granularity useful? Take a good look at whether the level of granularity you’re using is helpful. Does it take more time to write your tasks than it does to do them? If so, it’s probably too granular. But if every once in a while, someone asks a question or offers help that saves you hours, it might be a good investment. It might not help every time, but when it does it makes it all worthwhile.
Your peers are going to question you. I recently found out that my style of curiosity was causing people to feel like I didn’t trust them. They didn’t want to be questioned. I have changed the language I use to ask questions, i.e. more ‘how/why’; less ‘what’. BUT, there’s some work to be done on both sides of this equation. You are no longer being questioned by your boss, but you are going to be questioned by your peers, and you have more peers than bosses. This is what feedback looks like. We might all need to do some soul searching to get to a place where we welcome feedback.
The micro-management anti-pattern. Some of you are thinking, ‘But my company IS using Agile to micro-manage!” This happens. Traditional managers see the information they now have access to and want to use it to drive performance! <cringe> Is there a way you can refocus the manager on the outcomes, and get their hands out of the tasks? When they assign a task, redirect them to what outcome they are concerned with, and reassure them that the team is on it. Can the team use its collective voice to gently push back? What else can you do to build trust to obviate the need for micro-management?
Brain Twist. Name it. When you see micro-management happening to someone else, call it out. Name it without judgment or blame. “When I see you reviewing all their tasks, it feels like micro-management. What can they do to make you comfortable enough to trust them?”