Executive Support For Agile Adoption

One of the biggest failure to adopt Agile is not having the right mindshift change.  This mindshift change can be quite signficant for some.  Agile methodologies are a paradigm shift from tranditional “monumental” waterfall methodologies.

Managers and organisational leaders have a key role in helping adopting and transitioning to agile and this starts with the right mindshift change.  Esther Derby’s article, The Three Pillars of Executive Support for Agile Adoption outlines what is needed to succeed from managers.  What underpins the management support for agile adoption is managers having the right agile mindset.

It can be very difficult for managers to let go of Gantt charts, specific milestones and commitment dates they are accustomed to.  No matter that few projects actually meet those targets, managers fear how much worse it would be if the targets and schedule (no matter how unrealistic) did not exist at all.

Ultimately, it will take time to change the mindset and opinion of managers who have dug into their positions over years of working with projects that miss deadlines, deliver low quality, systems that don’t meet customer’s needs, and throw up change control walls.

The 3 points in Ester’s article are not that uncommon.

1. The Power of “No”

How many times do we hear “we have always done it this way”? Manager’s need to demonstrate, subscribe to and commit to the agile practices, values and pinciples and this means not allowing people to fall back into old habits.  This includes removing organisational impediments.

It’s predictable that when there’s a new method, process, or policy, people will request exceptions so they can continue to do things the old way.

There will be challenges in adopting any new methodology that you are not experienced with.  Adopting agile is no different and will take some time.  This is where an experienced agile coach may come in handy to guide the project along to successfully apply agile principles, values and practices.

2. Address Systemic Issues

Ester describes 3 systemic issues.

Three common patterns that I see driving exceptions are technical debt, overstuffing the pipe, and misaligned reward structures.
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No methodology can fix these issues.  These are management problems, and it takes management to fix them.  Without management attention to systemic issues, you will achieve incremental improvements, at best.

Not fixing these systemic issues, Ester rightly points out that this “will sow cynicism in the organization”.

Consequently, agile will be seen as a failure when in fact the cause is nothing to do with the process or methodology used but the lack of management’s ability to address systemic issues.

3. The Ability to Hear Unwelcome News

In the agile community we believe in transparency and visibility.  Within HP (and EDS), there is training which educates us to operate ethically and with integrity.   To do this teams should be transparent with their management.  Likewise, management will need to be transparent with the customer.  And this helps build trust with the customer.

Status reports where it goes from green, green, green, green, and then suddenly red should not happen.  With focus on working software in small releases, agile methods provide transparency of progress.  However, managers will need to have “the ability to hear unwelcome news” should it occur and deal with this effectively.

The four value statments in the Agile Manifesto, shows perferences we should take.  Managers have a key role to play when it comes to “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation”.  Managers need to set realistic expecations with the customer.  Unrealistic expectations lead to shortcuts, continuous fire fighting, accumulation of technical debt, and ultimately delaying the project more.

Management often resort to adding more resources to an already late project thinking more people-power will solve the problem.  Ironically as Fred Brooke coined in the book The Mythical Man Month the term Brooke’s Law“adding manpower to a late software project makes it later”.  Instead, Ester encourages managers to —

Take management action.  Have the difficult conversations and make the difficult choices to reduce scope or extend the date.

Agile methods don’t provide a silver bullet that guarantees success and requires a lot of management support.

Managment support for agile adoption is not just applying lip service and saying “we will adopt agile”, but demonstration of on-going support.  Skills are important, but having the right agile mindset is more important.

A lot of agile is common sense but without the right mindset adoption can be difficult and fraught with danger.

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