Lack of Executive Agile Support and how to deal with it

In a corporate world, we don’t usually see people rewarded for sticking their neck out. Change can be hard to push. Most times people will openly fight it. My first time on the agile transition train was quite rocky. Scott, my boss at the time wanted to make things better and tried to get the teams that reported to him to try Scrum. We brought someone in to train the two development teams. We made some changes but it didn’t take hold. What was missing was any executive support.

Executive Support

The adversity we faced made us think we had failed. Scott did a good job of learning from this. He learned how important the executive buy-in and support was to making this successful. As they point in this article from Scrum Alliance, the first thing to do is secure management support. This foundational step must be laid before going any further. Without it and you are really dooming the initiative.

Business Drives

As a developer who became a Scrum Master, I made the mistake that technology could drive decisions. This mistake ending up costing me my job. Agile helps business find value quickly. If they don’t you are wasting your time. One thing that helped me get the business to drive was to have them review the priorities on the story board. This was a great visual to see everything together. The feedback from this point forward helped us to determine what items the business truly valued.

Get a Coach

As a former avid do-it-yourselfer, I liked to try and fix things myself. I thought I was saving money but, in reality, it ended up costing me more time and money. One time I attempted a car repair that I made it worse, not better. My wife wasn’t pleased! Same goes with agile. Don’t try to do it without a coach or training. Yes, it will save you money in the long run. Lithespeed helped our team at Dice. We learned a lot from them and it made things move much faster.

Start Small

When we moved into our house we had plans to change numerous things. The first few weeks we had our house we painted some rooms and made some repairs. Our list of changes was quite long. Both my wife and I soon became overwhelmed and frustrated. Numerous projects began to take up more time and cost more money. After a while, we began to abandon many of these changes. Starting the move to agile can seem like a great time to change all your processes. I would recommend against it. Pick something small and start there. As you build momentum you can change more things. A few small successes at first can give you the sense of accomplishment you want.

Sell the Value

Our friends at Version One have an excellent post about getting executive support. They remind us to sell the executives on the business value. We need to re-frame the discussion to focus on the value we can add to the business. Ask questions like, “would you like to get products to market faster?” and “if we switch to Scrum we can handle changes faster, does that sound better?” Elmer Wheeler is credited to have said, “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle!” As an ad executive, Wheeler knew the benefits are what we should feature. Executives don’t care what you do as much as they are concerned about the results you provide.

Time waster

Executives are usually pretty pressed for time. Make your case quickly and then leave them alone. Don’t go into a 45-minute speech on the virtues of agile. Cut your topics down to how the company can value. Let them ask questions if they want to know more. A vice president I work with a lot tells his team to just share the “meat and potatoes” with the management team. They don’t want to know anymore. A few of his people when asked for the time tell you how the watch works.


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