5 thoughts on “03/23 – LESS TALKS: Meetup – “Why are there so many attempts to ‘modify’ LeSS?””

  1. Per my discussion with Gene, I’m not sure that the title of the meetup quite reflected the content. My curiosity was peaked with the meetup title; “Why are there so many attempts to ‘modify’ LeSS?“ I wanted to understand who are the companies/people attempting to modify LeSS? From my understanding of the LeSS landscape, most companies are “not ready” for the LeSS paradigm shift and therefore are not descaling or re-designing their organization using the LeSS framework. It’s understood that systems dynamics and Larman’s Laws (below) will impact an organizational transformation, regardless of the transformation banner, e.g., embracing Agile and or Lean practices at single, multiteam or enterprise level. Perhaps a better title for the meetup content may have been “what are the forces or variables that undermine LeSS?”

    Larman’s Laws of Organizational Behavior:
    1. Organizations are implicitly optimized to avoid changing the status quo middle- and first-level manager and “specialist” positions & power structures.
    2. As a corollary to (1), any change initiative will be reduced to redefining or overloading the new terminology to mean basically the same as status quo.
    3. As a corollary to (1), any change initiative will be derided as “purist”, “theoretical”, “revolutionary”, “religion”, and “needing pragmatic customization for local concerns” — which deflects from addressing weaknesses and manager/specialist status quo.
    4. As a corollary to (1), if after changing the change some managers and single-specialists are still displaced, they become “coaches/trainers” for the change, frequently reinforcing (2) and (3).
    5. Culture follows structure.

  2. thanks for the post Vicky. I agree, the title could be better fine-tuned to describe what we discussed in class. Perhaps, we did not get to the ‘why’ as much I was hoping. Mostly covered the ‘what’….(anti -forces). Hopefully, next time.

  3. Gene, thanks. It would have been great to walk through the case studies on the many attempts to modify LeSS. The “why” of modifying LeSS is, as you point out, a hot topic particularly regarding the career path of displaced PM’s. Since the traditional responsibilities of a PM are expressly assigned to the Team in basic Scrum, let alone LeSS, it would be great to understand from the “respect for people” perspective, direction on the new role of displaced PM’s within an organization undergoing a journey to organizational agility? Personally, I have not yet seen Leadership Teams actively address these displacements, and PM’s at risk of displacement are left with legitimate questions. We discussed the trend of displaced PMs jumping on the agile coaching bandwagon; isn’t it logical that displaced PM’s would attempt to shift into roles that most closely align with their current skill sets? The Agile/Scrum industry has not adequately addressed this organizational change displacement issue. In the meetup, the group discussed the individuals being impacted taking personal responsibility and either becoming product developers or finding alternative roles. However what role does the organization/leadership team have for this aspect of the organizational transformation?

    The Scrum framework does not address this “redundant managers” issue. LeSS is clear on this issue; as part of the informed consent process, a prerequisite to a successful LeSS implementation is that job safety but not role safety is key. Additionally, LeSS defines the new role of LeSS PMs. It’s perceivable that in a LeSS-butt adoption that the PMs would be expendable.

    SAFe explicitly maintains the role of existing managers as the responsibility for the adoption and success of SAFe lies with the existing management structure. However, even with SAFe, per this blog post, https://www.prettyagile.com/2013/09/what-happens-to-project-managers-when.html “the role of the PM changes and there are less of them”.

    Scrum at Scale advised that PMs/the PMO become an Agile Center of Excellence, however since most of the agile frameworks are in fact lean de-scaling frameworks the management displacement issue persists. Therefore, if the real agility goal of an organization is to improve predictability, productivity, and profitability then it is reasonable that the PM displacement will continue under the guise of “going Agile”. That said, where are the case studies of where the displaced PMs go in a successful Scrum and LeSS implementations?

    There has been a suggestion that PMs become PO’s, however, how many real PO jobs are available? The LeSS PO is the Head of Product Management and/or the CEO of an organization as in Apple’s Tim Cook. How does a displaced PM jump from their current position to becoming the Head of Product Management or the CEO??? In a LeSS organization, the only assistant Product Managers are the APO’s in LeSS Huge. Again, relatively speaking, how many of these roles exist? True PO and APO roles are few and far between. It would be great to see the case studies and/or the data trends on displaced PMs transitioning to true PO roles (versus proxy PO roles).

    Per your Unspoken Agile Topics article on the Scrum Alliance website: https://www.scrumalliance.org/community/articles/2014/july/unspoken-agile-topics , you discuss the psychology associated with displacements and retraining. The suggestion that PMs might retrain and become BA’s would also be interpreted psychologically as a demotion, as the path to PM (for many in IT) begins with being a BA or an Engineer. Therefore, with pride and other factors at stake, is becoming a BA, psychologically, a real option for those who have been on the management career path for years? Also remembering that in Scrum & LeSS the BA role does not exist. In the Unspoken Agile Topics article, you also highlight the trend of BA’s/PMs becoming Proxy POs. This PO proxy haven sounds great, but as you say, supply and demand dictate that real room for all the requalifying PM’s as proxy POs is limited.

    If Scrum and the de-scaling scrum frameworks have eliminated the traditional project and program career path, without any concrete career direction for those being displaced, is it any wonder that the VersionOne 10th Annual State of Agile Report has identified that the leading causes for failed agile projects as follows?
    1. company philosophy or culture at odds with core agile values (46%)
    2. lack of experience with agile methods (41%)
    3. lack of management support (38%)
    The VersionOne 2016 survey also revealed that the biggest barriers to further agile adoption are
    1. ability to change organizational culture (55%)
    2. general organizational resistance to change (42%)
    The impact of lack of management support (38%) and concerns about a loss of management control (27%) are significant when taking a systems view of this management displacement issue.

    Nobody is their role (except maybe for reigning monarchs), but since people work to live, it is understandable that managers under threat of displacement will fight (publicly or silently) to keep their jobs. Economists, anthropologists, systems thinkers, and revered thought leaders have not yet (to my knowledge) provided a satisfactory or appealing solution to job displacements that occur as part of the macroevolution of economies or that results from the microevolution within organizations in response to the changing economic landscape. Until there are open discussions and a focus from the new paradigm on the solution to this management job displacement issue, then Larman’s laws will continue to reign supreme!

  4. Vicky – I appreciate your further thinking on this topic and making it into a great discussion. Let me pull my thoughts together, before I reply in full. For now, i just want to make small correction to one of your quotes of my older post:
    -For PM, becoming BAs is a demotion. While this could be their perception (what I meant to say) this is not a good perception. But neither was I saying that expanding a count of BAs, by re-qualifying PMs into BAs is a good thing
    -For misplaced BAs and PMs, to step into “PO-proxy” shoes, is also a known trend. There is nothing good about it. Not even so much because PMs and BAs are trying to occupy it but because the role of proxy – is ill-defined role in the first place. PO-proxy really has nothing to do with Area PO in LeSS. Area PO is a real PO of one product area. She is nobody’s proxy.
    many thanks for the post. more thinking to come.

  5. I asked someone from a large German IT standard software company, what they did in their transformation.

    PMs went to other (often Non-IT) departments which still worked in non-agile way.
    PMs were still needed, when in certain departments Scrum was only done on a “team level”.
    PMs were not needed any more in the departments with “true” agile development, which he called “those close to the manifesto” . There, PMs went in different directions, besides other projects, some became POs, some Scrum Masters, some even went back to the teams.

    I know PMs from very large companies, which were often former vendor consultants, hired by the company now. These were often very good a “getting stuff done”, “delivering stuff” and some had a really good development or architecture background. Those people are a valuable asset for most teams.


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