A student in one of my courses asked if I could help him develop a short and succinct way of “How Do You Go About Selling Agile? I think it’s an excellent topic and I told him I would write up something on that. Here it is…
First, I don’t think that anyone should start with an objective of “selling Agile” to anyone. There are a lot of people out there who try to do that and I think it is fundamentally the wrong approach to try to convince someone to become more Agile rather than focusing on how becoming more Agile will help them and what problem it will solve.
I also very strongly believe that there is not a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall”; and, rather than attempting to force-fit a business or project to one of those extremes, you have to go in the other direction and fit the methodology (whatever it might be – Agile or plan-driven or some combination of both) to the situation. It takes a lot more skill to do that but it definitely can be done. It requires:
- A broader knowledge of different methodologies (both Agile or adaptive and plan-driven) and an ability to see past many of the stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions that exist about what’s commonly referred to as “Agile” and “Waterfall” to see those two approaches in a fresh, new perspective as being complementary to each other rather than competitive and to objectively understand the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches
- The ability to take a “systems thinking” approach to see those methodologies in a broader context beyond just a development process perspective of how they relate to an overall business and what problems they might solve
- In addition to all of that, you also need to understand the principles behind the methodologies at a deeper level (rather than just the mechanics of how to perform the methodology) to understand how to blend different, seemingly disparate methodologies together as needed to fit a given situation
I’ve developed a set of online training courses that are specifically designed to help prepare people for those challenges, you can check that out here:
However, if you’re trying to “sell” a manager on becoming more agile, he/she probably doesn’t have all of those skills and they’re probably not willing to sit through a series of training courses to develop those skills either; so, how do you develop a relatively simple “elevator speech” to help someone understand why they should even consider becoming more Agile? Here are some thoughts on that:
- First, you have to look at it from an overall business perspective , not from a more limited development process perspective. It’s very easy to get “tunnel vision” with Agile – we get so enthusiastic about the benefits of Agile from a development process perspective that we assume that what’s good for the development process must be good for the company as a whole and that’s not necessarily the case. Rather than attempting to force-fit a company to an Agile approach; you may have to craft an approach that is more well-aligned with the primary success factors that drive the company’s business and becoming more Agile may or may not be the most important factor in the company’s overall business success.
- Second, you have to recognize that some companies are scared to death of Agile – they’re afraid of losing control and that fear is not totally unfounded if the Agile approach is not well-designed and managed. So, you may need to start off with more of a hybrid approach as an initial first step to demonstrate success rather than going full-bore into a complete corporate Agile transformation. You also need to recognize that an Agile transformation can take a long time and demands a lot of patience and perseverance.
- Finally, nothing sells better than results. Work on developing good results and that will sell itself.
Although the benefits of adopting a more agile approach will vary from one company to another, there are some general benefits that apply, to some extent, to any company. Here are the key general benefits I would focus on in my “elevator speech”…
- Adaptability – The biggest and most general benefit is adaptability – regardless of whatever other benefits an agile approach might provide, no one is likely to argue that there’s a big advantage in being able to tailor an approach to fit a project and a business rather than force-fitting all projects to a traditional, plan-driven project management approach
- Time-to-market – Probably the next most important general benefit is time-to-market – a lot of people have the impression that an Agile project is always faster and that’s generally true but not always true. The real emphasis in Agile, in my opinion, is keeping the customer closely-engaged with the project as it progresses to ensure that what you’re developing really meets their needs. Sometimes that may actually take longer because it may involve some trial-and-error. However, very few people could argue that prioritizing requirements and delivering functionality incrementally rather than waiting to deliver the entire project all at once can significantly accelerate progress even if you don’t take a full Agile approach.
- Reduced Costs – Another big factor is reduced costs associated with reducing unnecessary overhead in projects. This is another one that doesn’t require adopting a full Agile development approach to achieve – all it requires is taking a hard look at some of the documentation and other artifacts and controls used in a project and deciding whether they really produce value or not and who they produce value for.
- Customer SatisfactionFinally, as I’ve mentioned, the big selling point of Agile is the improved customer satisfaction you get from having a customer directly engaged in the project to ensure that the project really solves their business problem and provides an appropriate level of value to them
The key point to emphasize is that all of these are relatively tangible benefits that can be realized, to some extent, on any project simply by using more of an “Agile Mindset” and it doesn’t necessarily require adopting a full-blown textbook Agile approach like Scrum and/or risk losing control of your business to get some of these benefits. Also, in addition to those more tangible benefits, there are also a lot of intangible benefits such as:
- Improved employee productivity and morale that results from more empowered teams
- Improved organizational synergy that results from higher levels of collaboration, trust, and shared responsibility within the organization
I want to add one note to this post that came out of some follow-up discussions we had on LinkedIn on this post…The word “selling” has a variety of different connotations. Some people regard “selling” as a manipulative process to convince someone to buy something they don’t want (like life insurance or used cars).
Years ago when I was a Program Manager in a large computer company, part of the training to become a Program Manager was a course called “Solution Selling” which was basically a consultative approach to “selling”. It created a different approach to “selling” – instead of going in to a client to sell them something like “Agile”, the “solution selling” approach is to go in to the customer and do a lot active listening to understand their problem before attempting to sell any solution. I think that’s the right approach with Agile also. There are people out there who get overly-zealous about “selling” Agile to the extent that “Agile” becomes a solution to any problem you might have. That’s the wrong approach, in my opinion.