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Agile Coaches' Corner shares practical concepts in an approachable way. It is for agile practitioners and business leaders seeking expert advice on improving the way they work to achieve their desired outcomes. If you have a topic you'd like discussed, email it to, or tweet it with #agilethoughtpodcast.

Apr 19, 2019

This week, Esther Derby joins the podcast! Esther is an Agile expert and the President of Esther Derby Associates, Inc.


Esther started her professional career as a programmer. She realized fairly early that work environments had a huge impact on whether or not someone could be successful. And that even though she was a coder, her real work was in changing the way people worked and supporting them through that process.


In 1997, she founded Esther Derby Associates, Inc. and has spent the last twenty-five years helping companies design their environment, culture, and human dynamics for optimum success. She helps teams and management understand what’s working and where there are contradictions that sap productivity and stifle innovation, as well as how best to maximize a team’s capacity for achievement.


In this week’s episode, Esther and Dan are discussing managers, teams, and Agile environments. They explore the manager’s side in the Agile, why having a manager is key within an Agile work environment, and what the manager’s role should be.


Key Takeaways

Why having a manager is key within an Agile work environment:

If you do not have one, improvement tends to get focused only on the team level and not the overall system

Teams function best within a high degree of bounded autonomy

What the manager’s role is:

The manager’s role is one of looking at the environment and trying to continuously improve it

“It’s not the manager’s job to get people to work hard; it’s to make it possible for people to work.”

The manager’s job is to enable the team to work, and then, to enhance their work environment

To make sure teams have enough contextual knowledge so they can make decent decisions on the front line of the organization

It’s important for the team to:

Bring systemic issues to the manager

Distinguish which decisions they can make without consulting the manager, which decisions they should make with a manager, and which decisions are entirely up to the manager

It is important for the manager to:

Pay attention to the system

Notice problems across the organization

Be supportive

Have conversations with the team on a periodic basis

Build in learning time and a learning budget so the team feels that learning is a part of their job, not in their free time

Challenges Esther has seen with managers within an organization:

Not all managers get along and it may take an effort to get them to all collaborate

When a business gets to a certain size, it becomes difficult to communicate across all the managers of different teams


Mentioned in this Episode:

Esther Derby (LinkedIn)

Esther Derby Associates, Inc.

Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen

Agile Manifesto

Bounded Autonomy

Tim Lister

Tom DeMarco

7 Rules for Positive, Productive Change: Micro Shifts, Macro Results, by Esther Derby


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