How Agile and Scrum are killing middle management

What worked for decades can be made obsolete in as few as five to ten years.
No enterprise is immune. Be it AirBNB against hotels, be it Tesla against car makers, these Agile new comers create massive value while destroying a lot more elsewhere.

The same disruption is happening within companies.

This is because many companies, in order to become more competitive, are trying to adopt Agile.
It could be Scrum, SaFE, Lean or other methods, but definitely Agile is no longer exclusive to software and tech companies.

Breaking hierarchies
The vast majority of businesses, say 99.99% to illustrate how pervasive that is, use a very feudal model.
The CEO replaced the king, and many levels of various “nobles” are made of managers. It is also comparable to military structures, which, again are examples of this ancient power structure.

This structure does have some advantages, and frankly, was instrumental in building the civilizations running the world.
It also has major flaws.

The structure is meant for a quasi static world, where change, innovation is slow.
This is why Agile insisted on breaking hierarchies in many of its methodologies. But why?
In short, because there is too great of a distance between decision makers (including stakeholders) and producers / creators. Understand the word “creator” as meaning, those who actually create value for customers in the organization.

This distance, with long paths to the ultimate level of decision, make traditional organizations slow to adapt.
Also, because adapting requires information, and this too, moves slowly within all the management levels.
Power structures and politics may even block information entirely, making it impossible to make enlightened decisions.

So, truly Agile organizations, have very flat management structures and shallow hierarchies.
They push decision making as low as possible, with self managing Agile or Scrum teams.

Annihilating middle management
When corporations actually tried to eliminate many layers of middle management, they often saw no impact on production, customer satisfaction and value creation.
At the same time, these businesses enjoyed higher productivity and better cost structures.

In Agile terms, it is clear that middle management, not being creators, do not really create value.
Obviously, they might help in terms of operation management, efficiency.. It is their intent at least. The problem is, the alternative structure, Agile or Scrum or Lean, can do the same or better… without them.

If you are a middle manager, non creator / producer, this is a very dangerous and risky position for the future.
I would absolutely recommend, strongly, to adjust and move in positions where you participate directly in production.

In Scrum, for example, you could move to product owner or product management.
These roles will not be eliminated by Agile, not necessarily.
Many members in an Agile team are more directly creating products or services, if you do not have the expertise and skills, it might be difficult to participate this ways.
However, most Agile methods require a cross functional team. In these teams, someone representing customers is a highly valuable position. This is because Agile is built on the notion that customers is central to every activity.

Not all companies will switch
It is doubtful that all companies will become Agile. It is very likely that many businesses will remain very feudal and the foreseeable future.
But those vulnerable will probably not survive without switching. This is because they will be out-competed by Agile organizations. Those will create more value, faster, and a lower cost.

Agile, because it often works symbiotically with technology, is there to stay. In fact, the “Agilization” of corporations will greatly accelerate in the ten years.
Choose carefully where you stand.

Originally published at