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Selling Value and Creating Safety

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Selling Value and Creating Safety

I did a post last week called ‘Are People Really Afraid To Change’. If you have a minute, go check it out before you read on… we’ll wait…

I’ve never been skydiving. Almost went in my early 20’s, but when the time came to go, I didn’t have any money so I had to stay home. Kind of a bummer.

Fast forward a few years and Kimi and I started having kids. I had a job, responsibilities, a mortgage… people in my life that were counting on me to provide for them.

I still wanted to go skydiving.

I never went skydiving.

Was I afraid to go sky diving?

I don’t think so.


I like to think I was making a pragmatic risk/reward decision based on the perceived value of skydiving weighted against the possibility of dying or becoming permanently injured from skydiving.

To a skydiving enthusiast, someone who has done hundreds of jumps, someone who knows how to pack a chute, someone who knows how to land safely… skydiving probably isn’t that big of a deal. The risk of failure is pretty small and the thrill they’d get is pretty big… so it’s worth it.

For me… I don’t know how to pack parachute, and even with training, I may make a mistake in my landing… to me the risk associated with skydiving is not worth the value of doing it. It is possible for things to go wrong. Personally, I’d rather be around to raise my kids.

I’m not scared of skydiving per se… but the risk is real and the value isn’t sufficient to get me to take the chance.

With this little story in mind…

Let’s say I’m the VP of Engineering in a large software product company.

I hear this agile thing exists, I may even know some folks that have had success implementing it. That said, I know my company, I know the people in my company, and personally, I don’t think agile will work here.

When my team comes to me and suggests we do agile, all I hear about is empowering people, letting them self-organize, and that somehow magically all my delivery problems will get fixed.

To me it seems more complicated than that.

I see the technical debt. I see the lack of automation. I see an inability to collaborate with the business with their current leadership. We are not staffed to form good agile teams. We have real deadlines and scope is not negotiable.

So here is the thing. Am I afraid to do agile? Maybe I have too many constraints beyond my immediate control to do agile the way I know it needs to be done? Maybe things just aren’t super broken and agile isn’t worth the risk.

From this executives point of view… just like in my skydiving example… the risk of going to agile is real… people do fail at this… and the value prop isn’t sufficient to get me to take a chance.

That isn’t fear. That is economics.

As a change agent in your company, someone who might see a better way of doing things that no one else sees… you’re job is to sell the value to your executives and to reduce their risk.

Do you know what your executives care about? Do you know what problems they are struggling with? Can you specifically map how agile will help them solve those problems? Can you credibly answer their objections?

Even if agile will theoretically solve your executive’s problems, do you know that you can get them there safely? Do you have a plan? Do you know how you are going to demonstrate and measure progress and justify the investment of time and money?

When it comes to launching an agile transformation, the first critical step is to make the value proposition compelling enough that your company has to do it.

Next you have to clearly articulate a path forward, and be able to clearly articulate how you’ll keep everyone safe along the way. Not in some idealized way, but in a way that takes real people and real situations into account.

Finally, you have to be able to show how you will measure intermediate progress, and how you will prove that the risk and investment are worth going forward with the transformation.

Anything less and you haven’t done your job.

Blaming resistance on fear, in the absence of a clear and compelling value proposition, isn’t good enough.

Next Cross-Team Stories: How to Make Them Work

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