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Antipattern of the Month: Micromanagement

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Antipattern of the Month: Micromanagement

This month's antipattern examines how a relic of waterfall development can affect growing Agile teams.

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Micromanagement commonly occurs when an old organization tries to establish Agile practice. Agility requires the empowerment of largely autonomous teams, and some managers can find it hard to let go of the authority they have traditionally held. They will involve themselves in the details of the work and how it is conducted, rather than letting an Agile team get on with the job. There is a desire, for one reason or another, to retain control.

Micromanagement can result in the inability of a team to inspect and adapt product and process. The manager takes action instead. Waste is then incurred since team focus and collaborative potential cannot be fully brought to bear. A micromanager can often become a bottleneck. Sometimes a micromanager will "dip in and out" of work, leading to inconsistencies in team approach and productivity.

To resolve a micromanagement problem it's essential to examine the underlying causes, because they can be so varied. Perhaps the manager does not entirely trust the team to work under its own initiative, or the manager might wish to retain authority in order to validate their own sense of self-worth. Another driver can be that he or she may come from a technical background and has, in effect, been promoted away from a job they love, and in which they want to remain involved.

Micromanagement is Antipattern of the Month at Agilepatterns.org


Intent: Manage the details of a project directly rather than through the offices of the appropriate team

Proverbs: "You have to know when to let go; lack of accountability equates to lack of trust."

Also Known As: Control Freakery

Motivation: Managers can find it hard to delegate operational responsibilities. There are a number of possible motives for a manager wishing to retain control. For example, the manager may not trust others to perform the duties satisfactorily, or he or she may simply enjoy dealing with operational matters.

Structure: A team member’s involvement with a project is controlled by a manager, such that the member has little or no autonomy. The ability of the team member to inspect and adapt working practices is compromised where authority in operational matters is vested in the manager.

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Applicability: Micromanagement is a common issue with managers who have been promoted from the field, and who wish to retain a degree of operational control. This dysfunction can also affect managers with a vision or strategy about which they feel strongly, and who exert an inappropriate amount of oversight on operational details.

Consequences: Micromanagement creates a bottleneck in decisionmaking and leads to waste being incurred. Actions may not be taken in a timely manner and could be absent altogether, poorly-informed, or rushed. Since inspection and adaptation of the team’s process is not vested in them, their accountability and responsibilities within the value chain will be compromised. Note that micromanagers can be quite selective in the concerns they choose to interfere with, and may continue to delegate matters they do not wish to address. Micromanagers who selectively interfere with people’s work are likely to create inconsistencies in quality, and to infuriate and alienate the affected team members.

Implementation: Organizations with a command-and-control management culture often suffer from micromanagement. This problem can be carried into an Agile transformation. As such, the implementation of servant-leadership often requires that the micromanagement anti-pattern be eliminated first.

See Also: Teamwork; Servant Leadership

agile patterns ,micromanaging ,teamwork ,antipattern ,waterfall ,agile

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