Attention Dogs

Delegative management?

During a keynote speech at a conference I recently attended I listened to a Phillip Lew challenge the orthodoxy of Agile’s over-reliance on group decision making (participative management) styles.  Agile teams are typically built a presumption that group decision making is all that is needed to deliver value to the customer. Group decision making is often compared to classic command and control forms (autocratic) of management. In many cases, autocratic management is portrayed as the antithesis of Agile which casts the discussion in terms of good and evil.  Casting the discussion of management styles in terms of good and evil is probably an overstatement and just believing that are there only two management styles is a miss-statement. Let’s deal with the miss-statement first. There are at least five common management styles. Before we can wrestle with whether Agile only works if a pure participative management is used we need to agree on a few definitions.

Autocratic management, also known as directive or command and control, is based on leader assigning work to subordinates and then overseeing the completion of the work. Taylorism, discussed in the re-read of XP Explained, is a form of autocratic management.

Delegative management is a relatively hands-off approach in which a manager hands off a piece of work to the team or lower level manager and lets them deal with it. The hand-off of work includes the responsibility for accomplishing the work. This form of management can be thought of as fire-and-forget.  Assignments, once made, are left to be performed with a minimum of supervision.

Negotiative management features interactions to reach a common agreement. Negotiative management can be practiced between individuals or groups.  Decisions are often based on the power differentials between the participants and their negotiating abilities.

Participative management encourages all people involved in the work to contribute to organizing work and developing solutions. This management style works best when it leverages the diversity of knowledge and experience of the participants. Decisions under this style of management is typically marked by group consensus. This is the most prominent management style seen at the team level in Agile, which highlights self-organizing and self-managing groups.

Consultative management is a hybrid form of management that combines participative and autocratic forms of management.  The leader involves participants as an input, but ultimately the leader then makes the final decision.  When I was in the corporate world this was a typical management approach because preserves a clear chain of responsibility.  

None of these management styles is prima facie good or bad.  They are contextually useful.  For example, in the middle of a traffic accident, a driver will not have time to evoke participative management, but rather will need to make and implement decisions autocratically.  Each management type has strengths, weaknesses and can be applied effectively in specific contexts.