Nature abhors the PM vacuum - or is it just us?

We've heard it before -Nature abhors a vacuum.

Attributed to Aristotle and brought to life (for me) by Gary Larsen. Check out this cheeky cartoon:

Agile teams don't need a Project Manager.  Period.  But, without someone "directing" the team, I have noticed that a PM vacuum gets created.  This is especially true for new teams who haven't gotten their self-organization "sealegs" yet.  For them, the vacuum is uncomfortable.  It will probably feel to them that the PM vacuum needs to be filled.  Someone should be telling people what to do, right?

Well, no.  However, without good Product Ownership, Agile Coaching and Customership that allows the team enough room to self-organize, the PM vacuum will get filled by someone.

The most common pattern I have seen is that the Product Owner fills the vacuum.  When this happens the Product Owner often slips down the slope (quickly) and turns into an autocrat. Saying both what the team should do, as well as exactly how they should do it. This plays out in the extreme as a team-in-waiting.  Waiting to hear exactly what to do from the product owner.  Frozen in time, waiting...waiting...  But they won't look like they're waiting.  They will be busy, busy bees -working on trivial tasks or things that they know in their hearts will be redone, once the Product Owner returns.

A team "managed" by any one person will not achieve self-organization. Since self-organization is key to a healthy Agile team and absolutely essential for a high performing one, there is good reson to pay attention to it.   So, Agile coaches, let the team know it's OK to be uncomfortable living with the PM vacuum.  Let them know they don't need anyone to fill it - no one needs to tell them what to do.  Pretty soon, they will fill it themselves, but not with directing.  They will fill it with collaboration, accountability, humor, creativity, respect and high standards.  Far better results will come out of it.

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agile, Agile coach, scrumLyssa Adkins