Monday, September 18, 2017

The 5 Ts

When I'm talking to Agile teams, we often talk about the role of management: whether it exists, and if so what it is.

I always fall back to the principles of the agile manifesto:

Business people and developers must work
together daily throughout the project.
Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.

Of course, there is more to it than that in an organization. If we were, as some suggest, to get rid of the managers someone would have to assume the duties that managers actually fill in organizations. It's possible via holocracy and sociocracy to do such a thing, but what would it mean?

I like managers.  I love leaders, I have some issue sometimes with bosses, but I like managers. I like having them. I have enjoyed being one. I even like administrators.

In my mind, managers are people who are trusted to care for, spend, and attend to certain aspects of the work which I call the 5 Ts.
  • Time
  • Talent
  • Target
  • Treasury
  • Trust
Let's take them in turn:


Organizations tend to have schedules. Some of these are full of events (trade shows for example), promised events, holidays, vacations, etc. 

A manager will help a team by keeping track of the schedule and helping the team ensure that they deliver the best value they can prior to the event, even if that means getting their code & tests reviewed and checked in and their expense reports filed before going on vacation.

If one intends to change a delivery date, it is likely going to require a manager who knows how to navigate the organization and its many dependent interrelationships in order to make a successful change. 

In small or informal organizations, and especially those practicing Continuous Delivery, a lot of hassle goes out of the schedule, but it is good to have a way of keeping the team free of hassles with regards to the organization's calendar. 

Sometimes keeping track of time and preparing for near-future events is more than we can do while we're in the midst of development work, interpersonal crises, learning, and the like. Having at least one person whose focus on the corporate calendar isn't compromised by hyperfocus can be valuable.


Are teams are made of people; our work is made of thinking; our dependencies are on other people.

Working with great people is a considerable benefit.

Managers are traditionally in charge of the headcount and composition of a team, the work of hiring and firing, and the budget for training and acquiring thought leadership. Other than recommending outside people for job interviews most team members have little influence over the who they work with.

It is not impossible for a team to take care of such things. There are systems where the teams seem to do this well.

However, there are tricky areas of dealing with accidental bias and legalities and such. Sometimes we need people to be trained in the procedures of hiring and releasing team members so that these things can either be avoided or done correctly. It's complicated.

Many people working "in the trenches" don't want to deal with the interpersonal strain involved with personnel changes, nor the work of planning scheduling training. They prefer leaving those jobs to people who are more comfortable with the tasks of scheduling and planning.


Who decides what will be done and what will absolutely not be done in an organization? 

It is typically managers and the process usually involves determining priorities, setting up budgets, and pre-determining appropriate times for review and assessment.

While teams are formed to do the work on projects and products, the choice of products and projects usually falls to a management team. Often the overall direction for the organization is set by an executive team along with advisors. This is a process that is (sometimes overly) complicated and time-consuming. If it were possible to not do it, many organizations would gladly skip it.

Again, it is not impossible for a team to take on more of this work, but when it is time to ramp up a promising project or shut down one that heartbreakingly did not find a market, it tends to be the work of managers to justify the cases, plan the transition, and eventually declare the thing done.


Most of us have been at the point in a project where the thing the team most needed was another computer, or another virtual machine in the cloud, or a license for a tool.  Standing desks? Extra monitors? A more reliable network? A change of version control system? 

It's possible that the team needed some training, possibly a visit from a consultant or specialist. 

It didn't have to be something large and expensive. Maybe it was index cards, adhesive flipchart pads, and sharpie markers. Maybe donuts & coffee to compensate for some early meeting would have been handy.

Typically, the ability to spend money is granted to managers, and only through delegation to non-management types. While it is obvious of large expenses, this hierarchical function is true of money in surprisingly small amounts. Some organizations require sign-off on all expenses over USD$25.00.

Whether it's trivial or considerable, the access to the treasury (and the skill to make a case for the expenditure) often falls on someone in a management position. 


The other Ts are important. Sometimes they're crucial. However, this one is key. 

A team is given a goal, and some discretionary space (volition, control, etc) to get a job done.  That discretionary space consists of trust, permission, support, and time. 

Within the space, the team can do the work in the way that seems appropriate to them, within known constraints. They can self-teach, peer-teach, and can develop automation and tooling that will increase their speed and accuracy. They can develop their skills and their work system, and improve their working relationships as well. They will experiment with technique and technology.

The more space they are given, the more abuse potential exists. What if they do the wrong things? What if they aren't improving the code in the way we want them to? What if they don't get it done? What if they end up working against the company's goals?

Fear that workers may abuse their time, especially where schedules and budgets are tight, is such a powerful force that many managers give their development teams almost no discretionary space at all. They "clamp down" and monitor the busyness of the team, and hold their "feet to the fire" and their "noses to the grindstone" so that nothing can be done that wasn't approved and assigned. 

As a result, an under-trusted team does not communicate well, does not share work, does not engage in peer-teaching or peer-improving activities, does not automate wasteful processes, and does not improve either their speed of delivery or their quality. They become resentful. They become obstinate. They lose touch with the "true-north values" of the organization.

All the best things happen IFF trust is given, but giving trust appropriately is a skill.

There is a very careful, incremental, crucial dance here; creating alignment and then following up by giving the right degree of trust in the right area, and supporting it so that teams can be increasingly engaged and effective.

Can teams work effectively and in a trustworthy way without managers supporting, aligning, and facilitating the process? Maybe. Probably. Sometimes. "It Depends."

Are Managers Strictly Necessary?

There are other models in the world of Sociocracy,  Participation Age, Dynamic Governance, Hierarchy-less, we find that the title of manager may be unnecessary (strictly speaking), but somehow these 5 Ts are crucial. Whether one is at Morning Star, Zappos, Valve, 37Signals, WL Gore or any of the dozens of other managerless operations, it is still important that these 5T management concerns are handled in some way.

Most of the organizations I come in contact (not all!) tend to concentrate these functions in the hierarchy (or web) of people who are professional managers and who are formally or informally trained to handle these responsibilities.

Most of the time, workers in the company are happy to have these tasks concentrated in managers. It saves them effort and distraction.

What Do I Do With The 5Ts?

Workers are slow to engage their managers even on issues that involve the 5Ts.

If we can make people more aware of the 5Ts, then we can help them to engage their managers on the topics for which their managers have the most influence and discretion. It's my hope that we can learn to classify our work into either "a management problem" or "a technical problem" and thereby become more efficient and more effective in how we engage with our managers.

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