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Agile People Management: 3 Reflective Questions

8 August 2013

The center of Agile people management is self-management. Agile people management has four levels:
  1. Manage myself – This is the foundation and basis of Agile management.
  2. Manage an individual – The subordinate, instead of the manager, is the center in Agile management, and the manager is more a facilitator and coach.
  3. Manage a team – Bottom-up management is preferred over top-down management, and the team needs to actively let the manager know what support is needed.
  4. Manage an organization – A good manager of an organization should move focus from control to empowerment.
This model of Agile people management comes from three sources:
  1. My more than ten years of management experience in R&D of an international telecom industry.
  2. My three years as an Agile coach and ScrumMaster in my team's and organization's Agile transformation.
  3. The Unity of Knowing and Doing philosophy, which I have discussed in my other articles on Scrum Alliance.
In the Unity of Knowing and Doing philosophy, "I" am both the "purpose" and the "tool."
  • From the knowing perspective, I'm the "purpose." I have the capability of knowing the "what and why" world.
  • From the doing perspective, I'm the "tool." I have the capability to understand the "how" world.
Let's start with self-management. I have summed up my self-management experience, my understanding and practice of Agile values and principles, and the Unity of Knowing and Doing philosophy into three reflective or retrospective questions:
  1. Do I feel comfortable from my heart? (Comfort in one's heart is the root of knowing.)
  2. What do I do next? (Think big and act small.)
  3. Does it align with my life objectives? (Objectives unite knowing/thinking and doing.)
This method is illustrated here:
The philosophical base of this method is Unity of Knowing and Doing. I'm treating the world as three pointers to the three stacks of my mind, my objectives, and my activities. This is a thinking tool to inspect and adapt the three pointers. Only while the three pointers and three stacks are united is it effective thinking and doing. In the My Mind stack, if the pointer points to the Discomfort zone, then there's a problem to fix and it needs be fixed.
The three questions can be triggered by:
  • Time: I ask the three questions on a daily basis to figure out what to do the next day, on a weekly basis to figure out what to do the next week, or on a sprint basis to figure out what to do in the next sprint. The answers to the first and third questions may be constant for some time. Then simply say, "Yes," like taking an easy drive.
  • Event: I ask the three questions to address a new request, a change, or new information.
Let me elaborate on the three questions. This is not a checklist, but it provides multiple perspectives or tips to understand the three questions:
  1. Do I feel comfortable from my heart?
    • Am I doing bad things? Keep a clear conscience.
    • Am I doing the right things? Doing the right things is the source of comfort.
    • Is my family comfortable? For example, if I have to leave my family for a few days, can my family be as comfortable as when I'm with them?
    • Is my team comfortable? Have I listened to the team's needs and offered help?
    • Is my boss comfortable? Have I fulfilled my responsibilities?
    • Is my peer comfortable? Have I responded to peer's request in a timely manner?
    • Is my customer comfortable? Can I meet my commitment to my customer?
    • Do I have immense inner peace? Do I have an integrated view of the world? Can I properly put my limited self into the limitless world?
    • Can I accept my weaknesses and grow my heart (mind)? Treat my heart (mind) tenderly as a baby. Find the "food" for my mind. Learn from a baby how his body and mind grow together.
    • Listen to my heart. Recognize and realize intuitive knowledge.
    • Am I happy? What make me happy? Is happiness more from my inner or the outer world?
    • Appreciate the people around me. Appreciate the world. Appreciate day-to-day work and life.
    • Do I have and stick to my core values?
    • How flexible are my values and principles?
    • Do I plan to implement my virtues?
    • Do I have the courage, kindness, and wisdom to achieve my goals?
    • What are the acceptance criteria for myself in my mind?
  2. What do I do next?
    • Timeboxing is a powerful Agile tool. Once something is decided, put it into a timebox. The timebox can be a few hours, a day, or a few days.
    • Focus on what I intend to do and get rid of distractions. Anything without a purpose could be distraction.
    • Plan some time for learning. Make connections between the learning and what you are doing.
    • Discuss with stakeholders while making a plan. Provide and get support. Do what I as an individual can do, and rely on teamwork.
    • Search information. Do enough homework. Life's most painful moments come when we have to admit that we didn't do our homework, that we are not prepared.
    • Be aware of the purpose of doing something. Before finding a solution, understand the problem that needs to be fixed.
    • Know the constraints, the situation, the scenario, and the system. A plan reflects both our mind and the world.
    • Visualize what will happen before doing something.
    • Recognize and build craftsmanship. Include skill acquisition into a plan.
    • Engage in effective communication. What is effective communication? Inspect and adapt.
    • Embrace change. Use backup instead of critical path. Monitor flow instead of utilization.
    • Improve continuously.
    • Use tools, but do not be controlled by tools. If one tool creates more constraints than benefits, use another one.
  3. Does it align with my life objectives?
    • What are my responsibilities to work and life? Objectives are always linked to responsibilities.
    • What is my career thinking? Career is the combination of interest, strength, opportunity, and the system/environment around us.
    • Distinguish what I need and what I want. Balance effort on the two.
    • Know what's most important and second-most important.
    • Know what I must insist on and what I can give up.
    • Know what I must have 100 scores on and what I can have 0-100 scores on. Family is always a top priority.
    • Figure out an integrated view of my middle-term or long-term life. Shape and frame it.
    • Align with stakeholders' objectives.
    • Ask why and groom objectives.
The three questions are the main tracks of my self-management. These main tracks can invoke other planning and monitoring tools, which will not be discussed in this article. I have used the three questions for some time and have found this method to be effective. For example, now I can spare more time for Agile learning.
Looking back to the beginning of this article, where I stated that the center of Agile people management includes "(2) Manage an individual," the first step is that I introduce my self-management method to him and let him understand the basis of self-management. The next step is to build some questions to conduct a coaching session with the individual. These questions are based on the three self-management questions but are more conversational. The questions can cover:
  • Objectives grooming. Objectives include roles, responsibilities, assignments, and personal development.
  • Recent plan, progress, and status.
  • Any obstacles, roadblocks, concerns, or anything else that's uncomfortable.
The center of "(2) Manage an individual" is still "(1) Manage myself." The purpose of a coaching session is to stimulate the individual's self-management. The manager's role is to provide coaching, facilitation, and necessary help.
As for "(3) Manage a team" and "(4) Manage an organization," the three questions that can be used are:
  1. Are we an empowered and self-organizing team? Any there obstacles to our achieving this?
  2. Are we aware of the team and organization's objectives, and of individuals' objectives? Can they be aligned?
  3. Are we continuously embracing changes and improving ourselves?
In conclusion, Agile management is about self-management and empowerment. Leaders and managers are facilitators, coaches, and servants. Leaders set up the stage, and the team plays and performs. Leaders collaborate with rather than control the team. This is what the Agile manifesto emphasizes: individuals and interactions.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 5 (4 ratings)


Glen Wang, CSM, 8/8/2013 3:10:19 AM
Jurgen Appelo • Thanks for posting. Funny, I came up with exactly the same four levels when thinking about management two days ago. :) from LinkedIn group: Management 3.0
Glen Wang, CSM, 8/8/2013 10:30:00 PM
Dave Thomas: It's a little too 'new agey' for my taste.
Sriramasundararajan Rajagopalan, CSP,CSD,CSM,CSPO, 8/10/2013 8:33:53 PM
Very interesting article and thanks for sharing your retrospective here. These four levels really resonate with the emotional intelligence principles very well - managing oneself (self-awareness, self-management) and managing others (understanding others and utilizing them towards larger purposes). Do you connect with that?

Sriram Rajagopalan
Glen Wang, CSM, 8/11/2013 10:23:03 PM
Hi Sriram,

Thanks for comments. My thought comes from my experience and I didn't learn EQ principles.

Sometimes science becomes science then it's far from people. For example maybe only EQ experts know EQ principles well. So Scrum suggests Inspect & Adapt other than a big upfront learning. Science is elsewhere other than only mastered by experts.


Glen Wang, CSM, 8/14/2013 3:08:44 AM
Management is about (1) Manage yourself; and (2) Influence Others. Influence others is – change the world.
Glen Wang, CSM, 8/18/2013 10:09:09 PM
Unity of Knowing & Doing:
- Self understanding is Knowing.
- The world is doing.
- Objective is unity.
Glen Wang, CSM, 8/20/2013 1:34:18 AM
people don't like being managed, & treating employee as partner will also let the manager be easy:)

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