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It can be very challenging trying to convince senior colleagues to adopt a new approach to delivering projects. This is particularly the case for Agile Project Management that challenges the traditional waterfall methods adopted by many organizations. In this post I focus on some key recommendations for helping to persuade senior managers to move towards an Agile way of working.

Assume no knowledge

If we want to persuade senior managers about the benefits of Agile we first have to explain what Agile is. Just because it’s second nature to us doesn’t mean that senior managers have any real awareness of what it means or what is involved.

In my experience, it is best to talk about some of the broad concepts that we all associate with Agile but sometimes forget to mention because they are so obvious. These include:

  • We deliver early versions of the final deliverable as early as possible to ensure we’re on the right track.
  • Work is a collaborative effort between the experts who design & build and the customers who will be using the solution.
  • Although the detail of what is going to be delivered will evolve, we agree the scope of the work and a deadline against which it will be delivered.

Don’t go into detail

Going into depth about what Agile is and how Agile works can be counter-productive. It creates the impression that an Agile approach is complex and specialist and therefore will not be easy to adopt. Create a high level story that addresses the key issues as they are at the senior management level, not at the user level. A good example of what to avoid is the terminology. Whatever brand of Agile is your favorite, the detailed language can be a barrier.

Don’t say Agile is the only way

Senior managers are usually middle-aged and older. They have seen lots of different approaches come and go. Stating that Agile is the only approach that will work demonstrates a naivety that affects your credibility. It’s more helpful and more persuasive to explain that Agile is a way of working that can align with other approaches.

Be empathetic

Any good salesperson will tell you that if you want to make a sale, everything you say has to connect to the interests and concerns of those you are selling to. Empathy is a willingness to walk in the shoes of others, appreciating the pressures they are under, what drives them and what interests them.

Ensure that you align Agile to corporate objectives and management concerns, and explain how an Agile approach increases the capability of the organizations.

Align Agile to corporate objectives

Objectives at senior management level usually boil down to a few key concerns:

  • Is what you are proposing going to save costs?
  • Is what you are proposing going to increase revenue?
  • Is what you are proposing going to deliver added value?

Is what you are proposing going to save costs?

Agile approaches bring immediacy to getting work done which lowers the cost of initiatives. This is because we are no longer paying for the planning paradox, i.e. all the team delivers in the first few weeks is a detailed plan of what it is going to do. With more traditional approaches, there is a lot of up front, detailed planning that needs to be paid for before anything is produced. In addition, because the detailed planning is completed up front, these plans will need to be reworked as circumstances change, which adds additional overheads.

As Agile approaches involve the incremental development of the final deliverable, the risk of developing the ‘wrong’ solution is reduced, saving costs overall.

Is what you are proposing going to increase revenue?

Agile approaches do not necessarily make initiatives earn more revenue, but they do bring revenue in earlier. Return on investment begins early in the life cycle, and continues throughout the initiative as more features and functions are made available to customers.

Early delivery can also generate higher levels of customer satisfaction. Customers are also encouraged to provide regular feedback and help shape later iterations of deliverables, helping them feel involved and listened to.

Is what you are proposing going to deliver added value?

The biggest benefit of moving to an Agile approach is the emphasis on business value. Every member of the team is encouraged to challenge their work, to ensure that it is genuinely solving a problem or adding a feature or function that is needed and will add value to the process. This has huge benefits for an organisation because it deepens and broadens the base of people who are actively contributing value to the organisation.

In a more traditional model, it is the responsibility of the manager to ensure their team is doing valuable work. In an Agile environment, it is the responsibility of every team member, so it’s a ‘pull towards value’ rather than a ‘push towards value’ model.

Align Agile to management concerns

One of the biggest challenges in leadership at the moment is how to effectively lead those who know more about their work than their managers.

Agile teams are managed on the principle of self-direction and empowerment. The manager defines the scope of their work and clarifies the output from their work but is not expected to define how that work is carried out. The team will self-manage by identifying the tasks, organizing themselves to complete them in accordance with the agreed deadline. They will only involve the manager if they hit a problem that needs more management authority than they have to solve it.

Explain how an Agile approach increases the capability of the organization

Effective Agile teams rely on members having a breadth of skills and being willing to pitch in and help colleagues on tasks that are not their areas of expertise, to make sure that deadlines are met and early and regular delivery to customers can take place.

Members of multi-disciplinary teams cross-train each other, increasing the capability of their organization over time.

Conclusion

For many senior managers, Agile is an answer to a problem that they don’t know they have. Traditional management approaches are known to them, provide them with regular updates about progress and have an established governance model and set of controls.

When promoting a switch to an Agile way of working, do not expect overwhelming enthusiasm for this change immediately. Be prepared to regularly explain and demonstrate the advantages of Agile, whilst remaining open to the advantages of other approaches.

Contributed by;

Melanie Frankline - Agile Change Management.

Agile Change Management Limited was formed by Melanie Franklin, a leading expert in Agile Project Management. Her business is an accredited ATO (Accredited Training Organisation) under license to the APMG. 

 

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