If Agile Isn’t the Point, What Is?

WRITTEN BY Mike Cottmeyer

For you guys that have been following this blog a while, you know that I am interested in how we become agile in larger, more complex enterprises. Inevitably when I am out doing one of my talks, I’ll get the question: How do I convince my upper management that this whole agile thing is a good idea. My advice… you don’t. My bet is that your upper management doesn’t care at all if you are able to adopt agile. When our play is how to adopt agile… we are focusing on the wrong things.

But, if management doesn’t care about adopting agile, what do they care about?

I’d bet your management cares that you can’t get any working product out the door. I bet they care that you are consistently late and over budget. I bet they care your product has terrible quality and doesn’t satisfy the needs needs of your most important customers. I would bet your upper management would like to be able to change their minds, easily figure out how to insert new projects into the queue, and have some reliable understanding of what products they can deliver to market over the next six months.

Going agile is only relevant to upper management to the extent that you can map your proposed changes to value that is going to drive business outcomes. These may not be the outcomes that you care about… they have to be the outcomes that your manager cares about. We have to use language that is relevant to them and helps them meet their goals. So when I get asked how to convince a manager to let the team go agile… my advice is try and understand how your management team defines success and suggest practices that are going to help them get there.

Unless they can map investment in agile to a specific business outcome, and ultimately financial return, you are fighting a losing battle.

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5 comments on “If Agile Isn’t the Point, What Is?”

  1. Martin Ellemann Olesen

    Thx. Mike,

    Once again an excellent point – we often get almost religious about Agile trying to make other people (including Management) see the light. If we took a second to see the world from their perspective and communicated the benefits from Agile in those terms, we would probably have a higher success rate convincing Management.

    Please keep up the good work!
    /Martin

    Reply
  2. Mike Cottmeyer

    Thanks for the great comment Martin. I appreciate the feedback and your support!

    Reply
  3. Robert Dempsey

    Fully agree here Mike. The focus with management is what value is going to be delivered. How is it going to help the bottom line. You mentioned quite a few of them. This holds true though whether dealing with an enterprise or a 10 person company. The problems are typically the same, just the scale of them is different.

    Reply
  4. joshilewis

    I think that more of these thoughts will start coming through as agile adoptions, successes and failures, build up more critical mass. Business, your customer, cares only about the result.

    In my opinion, adoptions (in any form) shouldn't be driven from a point of view of 'ooh, that looks shiny, let's use it'. For me that represents a 'push' adoption. This is the same as reading a patterns book and saying, 'ooh, Visitor Pattern looks cool, let's use it!'

    Adoptions should rather be a pull, like using patterns: we have a problem, how do we solve it? Can we use a pattern to solve it? I.e., we are feeling this pain in our organisation, is there some technique, whether from XP, Scrum, Lean etc that can help us solve it?

    I believe adoptions carried forward in this manner will be more successful at a grass roots level, and can also demonstrate value to the customer much earlier, and clearer.

    Reply
  5. Eric Veal

    Hi Mike, great post. I agree that the soft-skills of pulling agile off "under the covers" without to0 much hand waving and mess are key. While doing an agile transitioni, you have to look calm, cool, and collected but be changing things under the covers all the time to make them better, more fun and performant. It's not the mechanics of "the agile process" that matter, it's the FACT that you have an agile process and that you're willing to change what you have and what you're doing to better align with real market needs and mandates. Individuals and leaders have to be flexible and able to take orders from management while being creative about how they go about delivering the desired results. Agile leaders have to be able to TALK about how their organizations are agile (and how they're not) and speak confidently about what they're going to do TODAY to make their firms or development organizations MORE AGILE and adaptive to the market and current needs from "above". Even our management has managementn (their customers and investors) and they, too, have to be agile or lose their quality of customer service. Of course management wants its company to be agile, they just don't want "the nerds" or any worker for that matter to be rigid in their thoughts about what agile is or how the company should operate; management gets to have input into this and it's accepting their input that truly makes us agile. Pushing this further up stream is even better.

    And a quick plug, my blog on Agile and leadership is here: http://www.efficitrends.com/blog.

    Keep up the good work.

    Reply