Agile methods such as Scrum create paradigm shifts in companies and thus revolutionize their own corporate culture. Own beliefs and behaviors, such as “this is what you do“, are called into question. At the same time, the door will be opened for more transparent structures in which employees can become more involved. As a result, traditional positions are transforming into modern roles in agile companies.

If agile methods are successfully installed, management plays a key role. In order for managers, who have so far received little attention when it comes to introducing agile methods, not to stand in the way of such a revolution, modern managers need a clearly drawn, new picture of their own future role within agile entrepreneurs.

The modern manager

The modern manager: A creature with many eyes who keeps an eye on the big picture at 360 degrees and focuses on many things at the same time. Illustration: Appelo (2010, p. 370)

The illustration from Appelo (2010, p. 370) shows the modern, agile manager as a being with many eyes. In order to act successfully, the manager focuses on many things at the same time. It must not only create clear structures, motivate the agile team at all times, but also expand its own competences. By looking at general innovations and developments outside of your own company, agile management must always develop new skills and is therefore always on the cutting edge. The numerous eyes give the manager a 360 degree view through which he sees the big picture.

Agile management develops people

agile leadership
Modern management develops, protects and guides employees in equal measure. Picture: Appelo (2010, p. 155)

According to Appelo (2010, p. 155), three of the main tasks of managers are to develop people, to protect the employees and to lead them in their personal development within the company. I have already discussed in the article on agile HR how agile human resource management manages to find agile employees and to fulfill the new role of HR.

Complexity in management

Agile management
The complex reality leads to a “decision lethargy” for many managers. Agile methods can help. Illustration: Appelo (2010, p. 52)

The illustration from Appelo (2010, p. 52) illustrates the complex systems to which executives feel exposed. It is not uncommon for this complexity to lead to lethargy with regard to important decision-making processes. Decisions are often made, if at all, only by the deadline. Modern, agile methods such as self-organization and halocracy can soften complexity and make decision-making more transparent.

Agile management
Agile management must strike a balance between employee freedom of choice and clear arrangements (Appelo 2010)

Models such as holocracy (see my article on holocracy) can, however, quickly drift into a kind of anarchy, which is not good for corporate culture at all. On the other hand, however, we want to move away from old, deadlocked structures and the very rules that are too strict, non-transparent. So the role of agile management is to govern the chaos and create an order within the holacracy. In other words, agile management creates a balanced, perfect relationship between anarchy and dictatorship. Tip: Also read my article on management complexity.

Agile management against complexity

Most organizations are based on a classical hierarchy. According to Appelo, this is not agile and is not actually lived. That’s why Appelo calls for a hierarchy for organization and an informal structure for the network in the company. In this way, every single employee of the organization is connected to the others.

agile management
A network for communication and a hierarchy for leadership (Appelo 2010).

Appelo also proposes another agile approach to the solution. This is the idea that organizations fundamentally establish a classic project business. These are supported by internal service providers. These are specialized teams such as a GUI team. These teams have an agile mindset based on providing an excellent service to the project teams and supporting them as best they can. A similar approach was conceived in the 2nd Roundtable on Digital Enterprises.

Specialized teams in the organization see themselves as “internal service providers” who support the organization(Appelo 2010).

Dimensions of agile management

There are now no direct criteria for what constitutes agile management and what does not. What is clear, however, is that certain indicators can be set. So I have already defined some in the article“What is agility?”. But there are also criteria for Haufe. These are:

  • the agile target image
  • customer-oriented organizational structure
  • iterative process landscapes
  • co-work-centered understanding of leadership
  • agile personnel and management tools
  • the agile corporate culture

First, therefore, a target image should be set. The question: What do we all want to achieve together in organization and how can we offer customers maximum added value? Decisions in an agile leadership are also made differently – as Haufe says: For decision-making in organizations, this means that decisions are made “where knowledge and not disciplinary power sits.”

This is usually quite clear with the developers themselves, who are in contact with the customer. In the example of consulting, it is consultants who sit directly at the customer’s premises. According to Haufe, the way of working itself is also changing: the concept of agility includes short, manageable planning and implementation cycles with concrete results (“prototyping”), so that immediate adaptation to changing conditions is possible (“inspect and adapt”). Errors become visible at an early stage and can be corrected at an early stage, priorities are regularly questioned and refocused.

StolPersteine for agile management

But implementing agile management is not easy and does not always go smoothly. As the Havard Business Manager puts it: It is not uncommon for teams to be overwhelmed with the transition to agile management systems. After all, more freedom also means saying openly when something goes badly – and withholding criticism from equals when results fall short of expectations. Those who want to avoid unnecessary frictional losses should therefore define clear rules for cooperation before the transformation – also with regard to holidays, salaries and working hours.

So the magazine cites human concerns or loss of status. Often employees are in a certain routine, which provides security and believe that with agile change their position will deteriorate or are generally afraid of the high insecurity of a possible self-organization. Agility therefore requires different skills than working in a classical hierarchy. In the end, the magazine concludes: “Managers who want to change their organization should therefore make sure that the employees meet the necessary requirements.”


There is no doubt that traditional management is in crisis. In an increasingly complex and changeable world, management principles, which have been quite successful in many areas over the last century, seem to be reaching their limits. It is becoming increasingly obvious that a sense of leadership based on individual requirements and control no longer works today – at a time when creative knowledge work, complex tasks, and flexible response to changes in the market are paramount.

To limit it, Appelo developed its approach in 2010 and it is already very mature. New insights build on his designs and expand the model with new approaches. Research will show how these approaches can help companies to transform in a digital world for the future and respond to the massive pace of technological progress through agility and change.

Genderhinweis: Ich habe zur leichteren Lesbarkeit die männliche Form verwendet. Sofern keine explizite Unterscheidung getroffen wird, sind daher stets sowohl Frauen, Diverse als auch Männer sowie Menschen jeder Herkunft und Nation gemeint. Lesen Sie mehr dazu.

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Verwendete Quellen anzeigen

Appelo, J. (2010). Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. Boston: Addison-Wesley Professional.


I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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