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Management by Exception

A core idea of Agile is to build good teams and trust them. This implies a change which is hard for hierarchical organisations to adopt - do not hold decision-making and responsibility at a central point.

Like many things we use in agile, Management by Exception has a long and respected history. The first book about this approach was written in 1942 and it is mentioned within current (Prince2) project management approaches.

The basic idea is simple - managers should only need to be aware of things which impact their effective management and which requires some action from them. Everything else is detail which they do not need to know about. They must trust the teams to raise any issues that need senior management input.

In practice that is a big change for hierarchical organisations and hard to achieve - mostly due to the changes in mindset, power, responsibility and control within an organisation. These changes are essential to making this work properly but take time to achieve. It almost always involves redefining (and sometime eliminating) roles.

{{pics of communication and decision models}}

There are many people affected by delivering work - the teams doing it, the partners involved in delivery, the stakeholders who are impacted and the senior management with overall responsibility. All these people need to be informed about what is going on, but they do not (and should not) need to know all the details. A key point here is to identify all the different audiences involved in the work, what they need to know (and the way in which they need to know it) and any implications or impact it has for them. This also helps each audience identify any actions they need to take, while reducing the overhead of unnecessary communication.

Being agile, we encourage openness and visibility of everything. That is not the same as sharing everything with everyone. Giving people access to all information at all levels (from corporate goals to what an individual or team is working on today) is a desirable openeness, but if everyone had to look at all that information all the time, then they would be overwhelmed. Instead, we make that information avaiable, but use exceptions to inform different audiences about what they need to know. Everything should be available, about you should not be looking at it unless there is a need. Exceptions tell you what you need to look at.

Key ideas for senior managers

At the senior level, most people have a small number of very simple questions:

That is pretty much it. Does not look hard on the surface. As long as there are factual and honest answers to these questions then everything works very smoothly. Unfortunately, in hierarchical organisations there are multiple layers of people who are neither senior managers nor solution deliverers and have reasons why the message they give to senior management might not accurately reflect reality. Additionally, this requires devolving decision-making (and responsibility) to teams and individuals. That does not happen overnight - everyone has to change the way that they think and work to make this effective.

Here are some key things we need to get right:

Key ideas for solution deliverers

If we put senior managers at the top of the organisational hierarchy, then 'solution deliverers' are at the other end - doing the hands-on work which results in effective improvement and interacting closely with the consumers of the product.

There are some important changes for being a solution developer in the Agile world. Most people need some re-education and training. There are some (only a tiny number in my experience) who will never be able to work in an Agile way (even with training). It is most effective to relocate them to less agile roles.

These are some major changes in thinking for solution delivers: >/p>