Saturday, March 12, 2016

Agile: Don’t Sell It, Demonstrate It

There are many things you can sell including some ideas but you can’t “sell” behavior and you should not try to sell Agile to people. Both of these are learned and become part of what you are; they become the standards of behavior by which you live. Because these are learned, try substituting “demonstrate” for “selling”. This is not to say you don’t persuade your C-Levels of the merits of Agile so you can experiment but selling alone isn’t going to be enough. If you approach your C-Levels about being Agile you might start at a disadvantage because, unless they're planning on becoming an Executive Scrum team, their main interest in Agile will most likely rest on results and outcomes, not theories. To put another way, if the business needs a hole, talking about the merits of using a shovel over a spoon won’t get the hole dug and won’t bring any value to the business. Instead, demonstrate a great and mighty hole can be dug quicker and more efficiently with a shovel, then do it again just to show it’s repeatable.

The Experiment

When I first started using Agile, the CEO & company were faced with a particularly challenging business opportunity requiring an innovative software solution in 3-months. The CEO asked if development could meet a hard commitment in 3-months but the answer was no. We followed a Waterfall paradigm at the time but we knew we couldn’t execute successfully in the short time available using our current methods and practices. Being in the right place (the business needed an alternative) and at the right time (we had just completed research into the various Agile methodologies), and of the proper Agile frame of mind (we were eager to experiment with Agile), I was able to implement a variant of Agile Scrum that allowed us to pivot 180 degrees and build a software solution within that 3-month window. Agile and Scrum made it possible for Development and Product Management to capitalize on our business opportunity quickly and efficiently. Did the CEO want us to do Agile? The simple answer was he really didn’t care what means or tools we used to be successful; what he wanted was for us to be successful. Adopting a flavor of Agile gave him and the business the result and success they wanted. And once he had seen a positive result, he asked why all the development teams weren’t using “that Agile thing”.

The Demonstration

The CEO was never “sold” the idea that Agile was anything special but instead we demonstrated that Agile could bring special results. The CEO, the board, and the shareholders want the company to be successful and profitable. If the way to achieve success is both repeatable and sustainable, all the better. If they had that success using Waterfall or Agile or any of the dozen or so other software methodologies, everyone would be happy. The R&D Manager and Head of Product Management suggested to the CEO that the only real possibility of success lies with using an Agile Scrum framework and practices. This was essentially the only executive coaching needed. The high visibility resulting from using Agile Scrum and Agile’s built in ability for the team to absorb changing requirements, gave the company a fighting chance to take advantage of the opportunity which, in the end, was met, exceeding most expectations.

To move the business at its highest levels often requires a demonstrable success. A business may still choose not to change after a demonstration (or two) but what are your chances for change if all you have are theories and anecdotal data from other companies?