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Remove management layers from your IT Presales and Delivery teams

I enjoy challenging the status quo and disrupting the norm. I am referred to as the Chief Disruption Officer and a troublemaker by several colleagues and I consider it a compliment. I believe to follow suit is to be unimaginative, and to be unimaginative is to be on the path to irrelevancy.

Speaking of irrelevancy, I believe management layers in IT Presales and Delivery teams are irrelevant. It is perhaps not as bold of a statement as it may seem at first. The Agile practice has largely transformed most delivery teams already and the concept of servant leadership has also taken great strides in that direction. But is there hope for the rest of us who are frustrated by the bureaucratic procedures of large enterprises? Can we improve collaboration between our teams and become more agile? How do we increase the outcomes we deliver and yet reduce our cost?

I believe there is hope for us all. We can collaborate better, be nimbler and deliver higher quality outcomes while not operating under Agile. We can do so by reorganising in self-governing teams and parting ways with the chain-of-command bureaucracies.

In my previous article, I argued – backed by evidence – that technical experts make great leaders. I would like to expand on that and propose that every team member must be given the opportunity and the responsibility to lead. We can expect higher team productivity, better quality outcome, and improved staff morale if we let our teams hold themselves accountable for outcomes. This self-government and empowerment will not only flatten our organisational structure but will also free up executive leaders to focus on creating and communicating the long-term vision.

I propose we train our next-generation leaders from the ground up. The individual contributor teams need to elect a member on a rolling basis – quarterly or half-yearly – who will seek guidance from the next layer of the organisation. At every other layer, individuals are elected by their team – again on a rolling basis – and tasked with; mentoring their colleagues at the layer below and updating the layer above.

To provide an example of this model, let us consider an organisation with large engineering, consultancy and architecture groups. I propose the engineering group be divided into two-pizza teams, i.e. teams of eight engineers. One engineer is then elected by their peers every quarter to escalate issues to the consultancy team. The consultants will also have a similar model; one consultant is elected to coach and to mentor the engineering team, while another is elected to escalate issues to the architecture team. The architects too will have a team member responsible for mentoring the consultants and another who will report to the executive director or general manager with P&L responsibilities.

The below depicts my proposed model. I have intentionally replaced the hierarchical organisational chart with the team-centric view which has the engineering team at its heart. It places the teams requiring maximum coaching and support at the centre with those requiring the least, at the outer edge.

The above model could also be deployed for our presales business unit. Our Subject Matter Experts or Deep Domain Experts could be mentored by multi-domain architects, who are then mentored by enterprise architects.

I believe the model provides for a streamlined and consistent business model. It fosters a culture of teamwork, responsibility, accountability and leadership. It provides mentors for every team while facilitating learning and skills-uplift at every layer. It will also result in increased productivity while reducing cost due to the removal of multiple management headcounts.

This model is both ambitious and transformational. It requires new leadership principles and new KPIs defined, but I do believe it to be the right model.