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The Difference between Self-Management and Self-Organization

Blog: Agile Adoption Roadmap

This is the second slice of the four-part series on Self-Management. The first article describes what is self-management. The third article focuses on how to apply self-management. The fourth article shares the challenges in moving toward self-management.  This second article discusses the difference between self-organization and self-management. 

Why write an article on the difference between self-organization and self-management?  The main reason is that many people conflate the two words and concepts when, in fact, they mean two very different things.

Within a self-organizing structure, teams own the ‘how’ to do the work, along with deciding ‘who’ does the work within the team.  You will often find the self-organizing concept applied to an Agile environment, where the Product owner owns the priority of the work (aka, the ‘what’) and the team owns the ‘how’ and ‘who’. 
In a self-managed structure, employees own the ‘how’ and who, along with the ‘what’ to work on.  The ‘what’ means that employees prioritize the work activities.  In each cases, there is the mission level ‘what’ and ‘why’ for the organization defined by the leaders of the company that both must align with.  
In self-management, employees own much more than the work activities at hand.  They own the priority of the work, the overall planning, management of their own budget, and HR aspects like compensation and staffing.  This also includes the team deciding who is on the team or how the team is structured.  None of this occurs in self-organization teams.  It is just limited to the ‘how’ and ‘who’ owned by the team while the Product Owner (or Manager) defines the overall planning and priority of the work and the manager handles the HR aspects of the work.   

It is easier to apply self-organization to teams (compared to self-management) as the ‘who’ and ‘how’ are typically activities within the team boundary (working with just other team members).  Self-management activities extend beyond the team to areas like working with HR, finance, and more.    

For those interested in self-management, it is recommended to understand and attempt self-organization first.  If your business is ready for you to both own the ‘how’ to do the work and ‘who’ should do the work, then self-management may be considered.  If there is still resistance to these aspects of self-organization such as project management or managers continuing to decide who does what, then this hurdle must be resolved before attempting self-management.

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