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The Big Agile Persona

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: The Big Agile Persona

A little about our intended audience…

When Dennis and I started thinking about our book, we told the publisher that we’d really like to write for CxO crowd. We want to be able to influence the people that can really effect change in a meaningful way. We want to give them the tools… the language… and thinking patterns to successfully start transforming their organizations toward a more agile way of building software.

The reality… many CxOs are not going to pick up our book… and after really thinking about it… that’s not where a book like this is going to have the most impact. We need to write for the mid-level manager who has direct influence over their organization and is able to evangelize these ideas to their peers and their leadership team. We want to enable folks to act locally… but think globally. The book needs to be tactical enough to help the guys doing it and visionary enough to influence the key decision makers outside the team and up the organization.

Armed with that new bit of insight… we decided to take a page out of Jeff Patton’s handbook and create a persona for the manager we think might want to read our book. We also created a profile for the target company our persona might work for. We wanted to have a really clear idea of the problems our manager was trying to solve and the resistance they might have to overcome in the process.

So like everything I’ve talked about the past week or so about framing this book… this is ALL subject to change. We just wanted to have a starting place for the conversation.

Frank Michaels, Development Manager

Frank is 34 years old and married with two young children. He has a bachelors degree in Computer Science from the local state university and is currently making just under 100K per year. Frank joined his company a little over four years ago as a senior developer. He is considered by his manager to be someone with excellent technical skills… an open mind… and has consistently demonstrated his ability to get things done.

After only a year, Frank was asked to serve as team lead and was recently promoted to be the team’s manager. With this recent promotion, Frank has several teams under his control and more direct interaction with the other managers in his department. He coordinates with the other functional managers to drive work through the organization. He works closely with various project managers to assign resources and track project deliverables.

Frank is frustrated by the whole corporate thing and really questions his decision to become a manager. He spends way too much time in meetings and just isn’t interested in all the corporate politics. It takes over a year to bring a new release to market and it seems to be getting slower. Project schedules are unpredictable and cost overruns are common. To make things even worse, quality has been suffering as pressure to deliver has gone up.

StandardCorp’s Company Profile

StandardCorp is a public company that has been around for about 20 years. They grew organically for the first 10 or 15 years building software for the insurance industry. Several years ago the senior leadership team launched a strategy to grow through acquisition and they branched into the financial services sector. As of now StandardCorp is just under 5000 employees worldwide with most of their offices in North America. Product Development makes up about a third of their total employees.

As their product lines became more diverse, StandardCorp started looking for ways to leverage common infrastructure components and shared services as a way to reduce costs. The product teams began looking for ways to combine product offerings to create competitive differentiators in the marketplace. Several initiatives spun up to rationalize architectural model but these initiatives have been expensive and success has been sporadic. In fact, these initiatives have slowed down time to market and made products harder and more complicated to deliver.

Product Managers are frustrated because they used to have total ownership of the requirements and the technical teams they needed to deliver features to their customers. As the organization has grown, the delivery model has become more complex and it takes forever to get anything to market. In frustration, the product teams specify larger and larger initiatives in an attempt to get competitive feature sets to market. In response to this inability to deliver… the organization has decided to grow up. In the past year StandardCorp has made significant investment in CMMi, ITIL, and PMI Project Management as a means to get more predictable business outcomes.

Costs are going up… market share and revenue are going down. StandardCorp has already started offshoring some of their development activities and it looks like more offshoring and more layoffs are on the way.


Before we wrap, I’d like to give a special thanks to my wife Kimi. She was gracious enough to do some research for me while I was away at Agile 2009. I asked her to find information on about 10 different mid-level manager roles in a typical software development organization. She found information on Project Managers and VPs and lots of roles in between.

Interestingly enough… there were lots of similarities and overlap in terms of age, marital status, gender, and even salary. She gave me names of folks she found with links back to their original sources. Funny thing was, she actually gave me some links back to people I knew in the industry. Anyway… her research was really helpful… so I just wanted to give a nice pubic “THANK YOU” for helping me out. Thanks Kimi!

Next Interesting Post... 8/30/2009 through 9/5/2009

Comments (7)

  1. Bora

    Everything is great but the guy's salary is too low! I won't evangelize s**t for that :)

  2. Scott Duncan

    I think you're right to target middle managers not C-levels. My experience from years doing organizational change is that they are where things can be made or broken. They have important influence up and down the organization.

    Important to consider that they have gotten to their position of influence by doing what they are doing, i.e., rewarded for this by being given position(s) they have. So what would make them want to change, esp. if those above them still look at them based on current (pre-change) "values" and behaviors?

  3. Mike Cottmeyer

    Okay… Frank just got a raise. Does 120k a year cut it? That's a little high in the range but since he is such a star performer, we think he is worth it!

  4. Mike Cottmeyer

    Scott. Great point. I have written on this before. Frank might have to get to a turning point, some crisis, before he is ready to make a dramatic change.

  5. margaret motamed

    Great idea to target midlevel managers – we are more apt to read books, blogs, and evangelize change… Plus there are more of us!

    Love the persona too.

    What is the significance of the post title big agile?


  6. Mike Cottmeyer

    Good catch Margaret. We are toying with a new idea for the book title: Big Agile: Incremental Strategies for Enterprise Agile Adoption.

  7. Kevin E. Schlabach

    I like this approach!


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