The concept of the frozen middle has been known in management circles for at least a couple of decades.  It’s been accepted that not preparing middle managers for change is a recipe for disaster, and eventually puts any strategic change initiative at significant risk.

Penguin alone on a polystyrene block on black background

A decade ago, Roland Cuellar and I proposed an organizational construct to address this issue, the Lean-Agile PMO.   We shared work we’d done in setting up a program level unit that allowed middle managers to not only help, but also to lead agile work and thereby accelerate project delivery. Over the years, we’ve refined those concepts, and they have gained broad acceptance in the agile and project management worlds.

Today, the concept of a program group that enables middle management to play a vital role in organizations that have adopted agile methods in integral to agile scaling methods.  For instance, the Agile Release Train (ART) embedded in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is an excellent implementation of these early ideas.

For organizations seeking to galvanize their middle management with an incremental approach to leading agile, here are some timeless Lean principles:

  1. Limit Work-in-Process (WIP). Clean up the project portfolio by shutting down ailing projects, and prioritizing all work.
  2. Manage the Flow. Make work in the portoflio visible, and track and manage it.
  3. Grow Small, Stable Teams.  Evolve your agile teams and keep them stable across projects.
  4. Build a Network of Teams.  Connect your Agile teams into a network via techniques like the Agile Release Train (ART).
  5. Improve Continuously.  A driving Lean essential: inspect and adapt for continuous learning and improvement.

If this approach to galvanizing the frozen middle piques your interest, check out my recent book, Scaling Agile – A Lean Jumpstart, or better still, join us at Lean+Agile DC 2016 to hear how it been done!

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