Self-managing or self-organizing agile teams


Sensemaking in the Agile Forest


By Henny Portman

The Netherlands

Self-managing or self-organizing?

Many people confuse these words, but they are not the same. A self-organizing team is responsible for the ‘how’ to do the work as well as ‘who’ within the team does the work. This is applicable for most of the agile teams where the product owner prioritizes the backlog (aka, the ‘what’) and the team is responsible for the ‘how’ and ‘who’. To function, the team will have to know what the organization stands for, where the organization wants to go. The team will have to make agreements on what they can and cannot decide.

A self-managing team is, in line with the self-organizing team, responsible for the ‘how’ and ‘who’ of the work. When we look at the ‘what’ there are many more responsibilities behind this. The team is responsible for the prioritization of the work, how they are organized as a team, their own budget (the number of people on the team), the appointment or dismissal of team members and compensation.

There is even a third one: self-directing teams. Self-directing teams can be seen as self-managing teams that have more decision power than self-organizing teams. They can set their own team’s purpose and goals or direction.

J. Richard Hackman created in his book Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances, the authority matrix which I slightly modified to show the differences between self-organizing, self-managing and self-directing teams in comparison with each other and traditional management-lead teams.


When an agile team is allowed to decide on more matters for itself, it speeds up the decision-making process. This brings it closer to self-organization or ultimately self-management. PRINCE2 uses tolerances to define the boundaries within which a project manager can decide for himself. If the decision is outside the tolerances, the project manager must escalate to a steering committee or client. Agile teams could also agree tolerances or use ‘delegation poker’.


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Editor’s note: This is the 10th article in a series by Henny Portman, one of the world’s leading authorities on “agile”. Based in The Netherlands, Henny coined the term “agile forest” in 2019 to describe the many agile frameworks that have emerged over the last 20 years.  This series is intended to help readers better understand the agile concept, navigate through the ‘underbrush’ and more successfully apply whichever framework is selected for their projects.

How to cite this article: Portman, H. (2022).  Self-managing or self-organizing agile teams, Sensemaking in the Agile Forest series article, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue XII, December. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/pmwj124-Dec2022-Portman-Self-managing-or-self-organizing-agile-teams.pdf

About the Author

Henny Portman

The Netherlands


 Henny Portman, owner of Portman PM[O] Consultancy and was partner of HWP Consulting, has 40 years of experience in the project management domain. He was the project management office (PMO) thought leader within NN Group and responsible for the introduction and application of the PMO methodologies (portfolio, program, and project management) across Europe and Asia. He trains, coaches, and directs (senior) programme, project and portfolio managers and project sponsors at all levels, and has built several professional (PM(O)) communities.

Henny Portman is accredited in a variety of qualifications, including P3O, PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PRINCE2 Agile, AgilePM, AgilePgM and AgileSHIFT trainer and an SPC4 SAFe consultant and trainer. He is a P3M3 trainer and assessor and PMO Value Ring Certified Consultant (PMO Global Alliance). On behalf of IPMA, he assesses mega and large projects for the IPMA Project Excellence Award. In addition to this, he is an international speaker, author of many articles and books in the PM(O) field, and an active blogger. More at hennyportman.wordpress.com

Henny can be contacted at henny.portman@gmail.com

To view other works by Henny Portman, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/henny-portman/