How would you help organizations pitch the opportunity of agile internally?



How would you help organizations pitch the opportunity of agile internally?

It depends on whether you are managing up or down.

Managing up.

If you are working on a team or with a team and you want to adopt agile, but your organization is not yet ready to make the transition from project management to product development, you are going to need to manage up and create a solid business case for agile.

The organization simply don’t understand the difference between agile product development and traditional project management, and it can be hard for them to understand why a change is needed, and so you have your work cut out for you.

Meet the leadership team where they are.

If you are in this kind of a scenario, it’s important that you learn to speak their language incredibly well. You are going to need to speak to them in a context they can understand and allow them to explore the opportunity with you without getting sucked into a whole new world of jargon.

Speak in clear, simple terms that allow them to recognise the importance of the agile opportunity.

If their focus is financial management, there is no point in having a conversation about agile or scrum because you are going to have to continually explain what these terms mean and how they are relevant.

Talk to them about focused product development that:

  • Reduces operating costs.
  • Improves time to market.
  • Reduces wastage.

And so forth.

If you’re talking to a sales director or CEO, you’re going to be talking about:

  • The ability to respond rapidly and effectively to competitor disruption.
  • Increased customer satisfaction because of improved quality and utility.
  • Increased customer retention because of increased customer satisfaction.

And so forth.

The how may appear irrelevant to them if you can get buy-in on why you want to make the change.

Find out what metrics matter.

Take the time to identify what goals, objectives, and metrics matter to the people that you are going to be pitching the opportunity of Agile to.

Sometimes, Agile can appear as warm and fuzzy to people outside of the team environment and so you are going to need to be able to speak to specific metrics and demonstrate how those needles will move, based on the changes that you implement or adopt.

In the event of a trial, document the whole process and take specific care with documenting metrics and how those needles are moving throughout the trial.

Those metrics and that data will make all the difference when it comes to pitching senior managers and leadership teams on what is being achieved, why it matters, and how they can achieve more of these great results should they adopt agile on a broader scale.

OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are a great place to start but you will want to include more specific data such as NPS (Net Promoter Score) for customer satisfaction or create your own metrics using sprint burndown charts to measure velocity and how many story points are being delivered each sprint.

All that matters is that the metrics you select are the ones that matter to the people who will be approving or rejecting the opportunity of agile. Make sure you know what they are, make sure you have a plan to measure these effectively, and make sure you are able to build a compelling case for agile based on metrics and a scientific approach to measurement.

You can also use metrics to demonstrate how agile allows the organization to shift from revenue extraction to value creation.

A focus on the most valuable work at the most valuable time.

The people in finance are going to be interested in reducing fiscal risk whilst the people in sales and marketing are going to be interested in improved customer satisfaction and customer retention. The operations people will be interested in continuous delivery of value and how work flows more effectively and efficiently throughout the organization.

Agile is great at achieving all these results.

Make sure your business case makes clear how agile will create and capture value for them.

For finance, you want to demonstrate that short production cycles with frequent feedback loops empower the team to work on the most valuable products and features. It also ensures that the team don’t invest time and money on features nobody wants, needs, or cares about.

For sales and marketing, you will be talking about the integrated and interconnected nature of agile product development that includes customers and product stakeholders in the cocreation of products and services that matter to them.

Customers and stakeholders are included in the product development process, regularly review what is being built, and provide feedback on what is being built as well as what is planned next, so those customers have a deeper connection to the organization and are guiding the team on how to deliver the most valuable outcomes to them.

So, demonstrate how a commitment to focusing on the right work, in the right way, at the right time is a win for customers, the organization, and the teams of people performing the work.

An example of agile in motion

Ordinarily, someone in the business will make a decision to invest $12 million in product development and after 12 months that product comes out of development. At this point, they can start writing down those expenses to capital expenditure.

In most countries, it is only at this point that you can claim tax benefits or take advantage of tax opportunities. When the product is produced.

In an agile environment, you are working on short production cycles of 2 to 4 weeks, which means that you can immediately start writing off $1 million per month, as something is produced, and the compound effect of the savings you achieve is significant.

Traditional project management would only deliver a complete, working product at the end of the 12-month production phase, whilst agile would be delivering a working product increment at the end of each sprint.

The finance team will be thrilled with the opportunity, the sales and marketing team will be thrilled with the frequent delivery of working product to customers, and the CEO will be thrilled with the focus on producing work that matters, effectively, and receiving validation from customers that what is being built is valuable to them.

I’ve never met a CFO (Chief Financial Officer) who isn’t convinced that agile is a good idea if you use their language, frame the opportunity in the financial context for them, and deliver evidence that what you said would happen, is happening, in rapid production cycles.

Managing Down

If you’re a part of the leadership team, or an executive in your organization, and you’re figuring out how to sell the concept and opportunity of agile downstream across multiple departments and teams, you can follow the above advice too but also focus on getting people involved.

You don’t want to impose agile on teams because it only leads to resentment, resistance, and in some cases, sabotage, so I would encourage you to think about it from a more inclusive perspective.

A consultative approach.

In any kind of change management scenario, you are going to need to get buy-in from people at various stages of the process. The best way to achieve that is for them to understand what problems we are trying to solve, why it is important to solve those problems, and then invite them to explore how those problems could be addressed and resolved.

As above, you want to make sure that you are speaking their language and focusing on the metrics or paint points that are relevant to them, and matter to them.

If people understand why change is necessary, and can see the benefits of adopting a different approach, you have a far greater chance of people adopting and supporting the opportunity of agile.

Simply telling them that everything is going to change with immediate effect is not going to work.

Once people understand what the problem is, allowing them to choose the actions that need to take place moving forward, and selecting the best agile framework to use, is going to go a long way to ensuring a successful adoption and implementation of agile.

They are the experts in the work that they are doing, and so including them in the decision-making around what agile framework to adopt makes sense. They can see the pros and cons of each agile framework clearly and are better positioned to make a call on the framework that best fits their unique context and application.

The consultative approach to change is incredibly important in helping people understand why this change is necessary, what needs to happen next, and why that is critical to the success of the organization moving forward.

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