Getting Real About Business Agility: The Management Layer

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Craig Larman, co-founder of Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), has defined 5 laws of organizational behavior, the first being:

Organizations are implicitly optimized to maintain the status quo for middle managers, specialist and power structures. They are not optimized to deliver customer value!

How true this first law is! Anyone that has participated in a failed attempt at true organizational transformation has experienced this in either one or two ways:

  1. Agile has been mandated from executive leadership down to the teams, with little to no buy-in or follow-up through the middle management layers
  2. Grass roots, ad-hoc attempt at transformation from the development teams that is stymied by HR, the PMO and the middle management layer

Nilofer Merchant, Author of the book “The New How”, calls this phenomenon the “Air Sandwich”, which exists between executive leadership and the development teams resulting in middle management and specialist actively working to keep their span of control. In the end we all can agree that for any transformation to be successful every part of the organization, including the business and HR, needs to transform and be engaged and aligned to a single purpose, otherwise the transformation fails!