Applying Agile Methods to Engineering Management

This is the fourth of a twelve-part series covering the sessions from Calibrate, an engineering leadership conference held September, 2015 in San Francisco.

Congratulations, You’re a Manager!

Oftentimes that sense of accomplishment fades quickly and is replaced by feelings of uncertainty and thoughts like, “Great, exactly how do I manage people?”, or “There are so many things to do, where do I start?” If you come from a software development background, Kate Heddleston would argue that you have all the tools you need to tackle people management. During her talk at Calibrate, she shed some light on what she called Agile Management. If you’re wondering whether or not it’s anything like Agile Development, spoiler alert - it is.

“What if we managed people the way that we build code?”

On the surface, this statement may seem counter-intuitive. People are way more complicated than software and managing people is intrinsically different than building software. It may start to make sense if you view it through the lens of Agile. She defines agile management as a “framework for solving problems quickly and iteratively.” It requires “continuous planning, testing, and integration”, and “rapid and flexible response to change.”

Taking an agile approach to management forces you into action, because just like agile development, your goal is to deliver a solution to a problem quickly. One of the nice things about agile is the ability to iterate, which eliminates the burden of coming up the perfect solution on the first try. As managers, we often feel the need to solve the problem on the first try. This can lead to doing nothing, for fear of doing the wrong thing. Kate reminds us that inaction is one of the worst things a manager can do, as it conveys the message that the manager doesn’t care about problems facing the team. If you’re interested in learning more about Agile Management, have a listen to Kate’s talk.