Command and control is not so bad in Agile


Actually control in Agile is good and necessary. It is. Yes, it is. I said – it is. Trust me. Don’t you? Good, then let me share my thoughts about when and what control is good.

First of all, I have noticed that very often members of Agile Teams are trying to defeat control, because control is Evil. Because Agile Team is Self-Organized and therefore they should decide almost everything. Wrong!

Don’t be mistaken that self-organized means taking every decision over everything and everyone. It is just not like that. Team is not a center of business. Not in my world at least. Self-Organization simply means that team can make decisions within agreed boundaries within their level of competence. For example team will not do bookkeeping. In finding Scrum Master post I have mentioned how lack of competence might lead team to wrong decision and therefore it makes sense to accept manager decision over team decision.

Actually you face necessary control all the time. For example market is controlling what you are developing. Major part of product backlog represents market or internal customer needs, not a wish list of Agile Team.

And what about your manager? You know that he suppose to manage, but you need no managing, because you are part of Self-Organized team. At least you cannot find anywhere where is the line between those two players. You will not find it in Agile manifesto, neither in basic Scrum guide. I am managing Agile teams for some years already. You will find lot of articles about good manager definition and behavior which is somewhat close to coach. However there is a reason why manager is called manager and not a coach. Reason is that acting as coach is simply not enough, control is required as well. I am working as a manager for quite number of years already. You know, I am using control, but in a certain way. Actually no one will resist if it is used properly. Let me give you some tips how to make control welcome: control should have clear reasoning and explained to ones control is being applied to. It must be negotiable as well. Stick to “best idea wins” way of behaving.

Another form of control you meet is called company policy. Company policies are basically another form of management control. Usually it is built to represent best practices. As any other set of best practices it should be negotiable. Also they should be not a mandatory to follow if a person understands consequences and those are being managed and communicated properly. On the other hand I must admit, that in real life, policies usually are hard to change, they are not allowed to be ignored to the level it makes no sense in the end. Usually policy is the reason to follow the policy, because it is too complicated or expensive to explain to people why it should be followed. And most likely, if policy is understood properly, then there is no need for policy because one will simply follow best practices. So in general policy idea and purpose are good. Have you done anything to understand why you have policies the way they are? Have you made them better?

There are more examples of positive control, like road signs – purpose is to save us from hurting ourselves. Other law regulations are there to serve us. Control of defining working hours is to make sure people can collaborate, so most of the people can be reached when needed. Invoices are control to ensure fair value exchanges. Field validation in user interface is control in order user would prevent making an error. So wake up people, control is all around you every day and that control is good. There are some people who simply use it for wrong purpose or in wrong way. Help them to figure that out.

2 thoughts on “Command and control is not so bad in Agile

  1. Hi,
    It’s pleasure to read your blog and thanks from the post. Your topic is provocative, I would say. I agree that there is some time when team needs command and control. There is areas which it might not have skills to decide and so on. For example business decisions. But I wouldn’t say it’s command or control to say what to develop. It’s more goal setting. What do you think?
    I would be also interesting to know your experiences when team needs command and control . Cases when team needs commands and control from the managers but managers might not know that they should give it.
    – jp

    1. Hi JP,
      I have observed that many people use term of Command and Control to reflect 2 types of behavior: micromanagement and when someone is given command without understanding the negative impact. I encourage people to understand what command and control stands for. Let me quote something first:

      Without a “mission” or purpose, Command and Control and/or management do not make sense

      Roles, responsibilities, and relationships (or a subset of these) may be self-organized and may change as a function of time and circumstance

      Given definition above I will describe one case scenario I have used. Agile Team has identified that they are not creating documentation. They have this knowledge for several years. Of course, documentation itself is not a value, but a tool and therefore should not be used as a goal or request. I have identified that there is a risk of maintenance of projects in the future and therefore I have defined mission to fight the risk. Team was given a command to capture business requirements and do anything else that is required to solve the risk. Team has full freedom in deciding how detailed and what form and shape documentation will look like for capturing business requirements. By control, in other words monitoring and assessing situation, circumstances and results, together with Team we are going to adjust measures to fight the risk. If circumstances would change, we should re-think how to achieve the mission. In order to make sure mission and purpose are accepted and understood properly, mission and commands are negotiable.

      As a manager I am defining missions, giving commands and assessing situation and circumstances, but not limiting myself to do it alone. I think many of Agile practitioners are using command and control, but they are not aware of that 🙂


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