How to get Management to Love Agile

Jan 29, 2018

Why we love Agile

Many of us are in love with the Agile culture and the Agile way of working. We see clear benefits in working in short cycles. And we get far away from the madness of waterfall style thinking.

Equally many of us have a hard time convincing management and the organization that they are best served by letting us work Agile and in fact that they should probably adopt Agile as well.

In this article, I will share my experience of what you can learn and do, to get management and organizational buy-in. You might not like to hear what I have to tell you though.

My name is Kai Gilb,
and I have since 1992 been the apprentice of my father, Tom Gilb. We have since then, successfully taught many organizations small and large, software and systems as well as management, to succeed in their projects with delivering value to stakeholders in short, typically one week, delivery cycles. At Intel alone, 15000 people have learned our techniques on how to specify and deliver value. Tom's early work is broadly recognized as the inspiration for short cycles in Agile. He is known as the grandfather of Agile. Our customers have learned how to succeed beyond expectations in their projects, systematically, every time. And management loves it.

Agile a relief
Agile is a somewhat undefined entity that contains lots of ideas, methods, skill-sets, philosophies, cultures, people, opinions and more. From the early start of the Agile Manifesto to the techniques taught and practiced today. They all seem to be a huge relief compared to a stale longwinded waterfall philosophy that clearly doesn't work. So it's all good, right?

Why would Management embrace Agile?
Agile does not focus on delivering value to stakeholders. Its focus is on the team environment, task management, working software, functions and the like. It usually assumes that if they deliver on those things, the value must surely be delivered. This approach is not good enough for a competitive environment, not even close. Having a Product Owner or a team select User Stories, solutions or the like based on what they think will deliver value, is not going to be able to compete against a team that optimises on value directly. It would be like if Rosenborg BK (a Norwegian football team) would play against Barcelona FC. Barcelona would crush them at every stage of the game because Barcelona has optimised everything towards winning the game. Management should expect a high return of value on their investments. Agile does not optimise directly towards value delivery. Doing stuff that they think will produce value is not even playing in the same tournament as the teams that focus directly and systematically on delivering value.
My view is that your managers would only accept Agile if they are incompetent and easily conned. Or if they have forever experienced failed software projects and are desperate for something, anything, that will do a little better.

The Con
Some Agilists are even trying to con their managers into the idea that they cannot promise a delivery date or how much it will cost to develop. But they expect management to allocate specific resources to the team. Come on!!!
This is another misunderstanding typically preached in agile that will discourage any intelligent manager. The premise is correct, that one often can not know what is required to reach product or stakeholder value goals, that the costs are unknown. But the conclusion is incorrect. One can still set a deadline, a budget and learn to deliver within it. What you need to learn is what we call design to cost. Where you learn to adjust your design/solutions, so it fits within their budget.
I would even take it a step further. You could do what we call 'no cure no pay'. Where you don't need a long-term budget or deadline at all. You just deliver a continuous stream of quantified, measured stakeholder and product values. As long as the value is more than the cost, you continue. This will only work if you know how to focus, specify, quantify and measure value.
The only reason that you have a budget at all is that you are not known to deliver enough value. The management wants to cut their losses.

How to get Management to Love Agile
The way we get management and the rest of the organization to love Agile is to focus on what matters, and that is not Agile as taught and practiced today. What matters is your ability to deliver an early, continuous, frequent stream of quantified, measured values to the stakeholders. This is not the same as delivering working code or shippable software; hoping or assuming that it will give someone value.
I'm talking about actual value improvements as experienced by your stakeholders. Early as in this week, continuous and frequent, as in every week, week after week.

Agile as potential solutions
The various agile techniques, methods, setups, tools, etc. should be seen as potential means you can use to develop and deliver the value. To the degree they do deliver value for fewer resources than other techniques, you keep them and use them. If they don't, you discard them.

Gilb's oversimplified Value Delivery process
1. identify and determine your stakeholders and their value targets
2. do anything and everything to deliver that value. This can include the agile stuff.
3. learn and adapt according to your ability to deliver point 1.
4. go to step 1.

Management Love
My experience is that when you learn this skill of delivering a continuous stream of value, management loves you, they support you, they listen to you, and they want everybody to do the same.

Take off your pink agile glasses.
Agile is a potential means, not an end. It is largely failing to deliver value to stakeholders within budgets and time. So don't push it on management and the rest of your organization.
You want to be agile, but is that more important than learning how to deliver value to stakeholders? Make up your mind, do you want to be agile or do you want to become an expert in delivering value to your stakeholders?
My advise ... learn to deliver massive amount of value to stakeholders. Then how you do it will sell itself.

Kai Gilb
We Deliver #ValueFirst


A manager just sent me an email that I thought would be interesting to share. 

For anyone who would like to learn how to execute all this in practice, I like to recommend our webinar on Thursday.
Value First: The Secret of How our Customers Deliver every Project
On-Time, Under-Budget, and to High-Quality.


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