Category Archives: Agile Transformation

How Do You Go About Selling Agile?

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…

Selling Agile
Mature businessman in his office with offce building on the background

How Do You Go About Selling Agile?

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.

  • I think it is fundamentally the wrong approach to try to convince someone to become more Agile.
  • A better approach is to focus on what problem it will solve.

Selling Agile – Fitting the Approach to the Business

I also very strongly believe that there is not a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall”. 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 to the problem. It takes a lot more skill to do that but it definitely can be done. It requires:

1. A Broader Knowledge of Different Methodologies

You need a broader knowledge of different methodologies (both Agile or adaptive and plan-driven) including an ability to:

  • See past many of the stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions that exist about what’s commonly referred to as “Agile” and “Waterfall”
  • See those two approaches in a fresh, new perspective as being complementary to each other rather than competitive and
  • Objectively understand the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches

2. Systems Thinking Approach

It also requires 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

3. Understand the Principles Behind the Methodologies

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) That is essential to understand how to blend different, seemingly disparate methodologies together as needed to fit a given situation

Selling Agile – Taking a Business Perspective

If you’re trying to “sell” a manager on becoming more agile,

  • He/she probably doesn’t have all of those skills and
  • Is 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:

Look at It From an Overall Business Perspective

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
  • 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.

Fear of Agile

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

Focus on Results

Finally, nothing sells better than results. Work on developing good results and that will sell itself.

Benefits of a More Agile Approach

It’s important to focus on the benefits. How will it help the business?

  • Don’t just try to become Agile for the sake of becoming Agile
  • 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. An Agile approach is not necessarily the fastest but it has some significant advantages:

  • Prioritizing requirements and delivering functionality incrementally can significantly accelerate progress
  • A more streamlined planning process can also accelerate the startup of a project
  • Reduction of unnecessary overhead will improve efficiency and throughput

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 Satisfaction

A big selling point of Agile is the improved customer satisfaction 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

Employee Productivity and Morale

Improved employee productivity and morale is a result of more empowered teams

Organizational Synergy

Finally, a major benefit of an Agile approach is the organizational synergy that results from the cross-functional collaboration of an Agile approach. Having everyone in the organization work together in a spirit of trust and partnership towards some overall goals can have a very powerful impact.

Overall Summary

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”. It doesn’t necessarily require adopting a full-blown Agile approach like Scrum and/or risk losing control of your business to get some of these benefits.

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 to do a lot active listening to understand their problem before attempting to sell any solution
  • I think that’s a good 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.

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

Business Process Reengineering and Agile Transformation

I recently wrote an article on a “Business-centric Approach to Agile“. Have you ever thought about how similar Business Process Reengineering and Agile Transformation are? The similarities are amazing but I suspect that many people don’t think of any relationship between BPR and Agile.

What Is Business Process Reengineering?

Business Process Reengineering (BPR) was very hot in the 1990’s. One of the catalysts that precipitated the need for BPR was the advent of new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems.

  • ERP systems enabled many companies to much more completely automate their business processes. However, it was a gut-wrenching change for many companies because, in many cases, implementing an ERP system required rethinking their business processes and take a much more cross-functional approach to their business.
  • Another important catalyst was “lean manufacturing” which seeks to eliminate the use of any resource that does not create value for the end consumer.

Does that sound like an Agile enterprise-level transformation? Here’s how Bain and Company defines “Business Process Reengineering”:

“Business Process Reengineering involves the radical redesign of core business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in productivity, cycle times and quality. In Business Process Reengineering, companies start with a blank sheet of paper and rethink existing processes to deliver more value to the customer. They typically adopt a new value system that places increased emphasis on customer needs. Companies reduce organizational layers and eliminate unproductive activities in two key areas. First, they redesign functional organizations into cross-functional teams. Second, they use technology to improve data dissemination and decision making”

Source: Bain & Company: Insights – Management Tools, Business Process Reengineering

Understanding Business Process Reengineering

Let’s take this definition one step at a time:

Radical Redesign of Core Business Processes

The first statement is

“Business Process Reengineering involves the radical redesign of core business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in productivity, cycle times and quality”.

There is no question in my mind that that statement could apply to an Agile transformation, but do companies really realize that and do it that way?

Start With a Blank Sheet of Paper and Rethink Everything

The next statement is

“In Business Process Reengineering, companies start with a blank sheet of paper a2nd rethink existing processes to deliver more value to the customer.”

There’s also a good fit with that statement. You may not start with a “blank sheet of paper” and throw out all your existing management processes, but it is definitely important to rethink many existing stereotypes and misconceptions that exist about both Agile and traditional management approaches before you launch into an Agile transformation.

Adopt a New Value System

The statement that

“They typically adopt a new value system that places increased emphasis on customer needs”

is very relevant to an Agile transformation but is probably not given the attention that it deserves. When a company implements an Agile transformation, it is often done from a limited development perspective focused on how it improves the development process. However, that needs to be done in a larger context of how it improves the customer value that the company delivers to its customers.

Reduce Organizational Layers and Eliminate Unproductive Activities

The last statement is absolutely very relevant to an Agile transformation:

“Companies reduce organizational layers and eliminate unproductive activities in two key areas. First, they redesign functional organizations into cross-functional teams. Second, they use technology to improve data dissemination and decision making”

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

Making Agile Work for Your Business

How do you go about making Agile work for your business? Many Agile coaching and consulting companies take what I would call a “developer-centric” approach to Agile:

  • The effort is heavily focused on team-level capabilities and is primarily oriented around improving the development process
  • There’s nothing wrong with that, in itself. However,
    • People often make the mistake of assuming that whatever is good for the development process must be good for the business as a whole, and
    • That is not necessarily the case
Make Agile Work for Your Business

When you apply Agile to a business at an enterprise level, a balance between two approaches is needed:

  • A bottom-up “developer-centric” approach and
  • A top-down “business-centric” approach to Agile

Background

Making Agile work for your business is a real challenge:

  • There is widespread knowledge that exists about almost every possible aspect of how to optimize an Agile development process at a team level; however,
  • The knowledge about how to make Agile work at an enterprise level is much more limited.
  • There have been numerous failures in trying to make Agile work at an enterprise level and there are some significant misconceptions behind these failures

Another big challenge is aligning the overall business strategy and the development strategy:

  • At the business level, the approach should be designed around what makes the most sense for the company’s business
  • That may or may not be exactly the same as the approach used to manage projects at the development level
  • The people designing the enterprise-level strategy need to be able to understand the business strategy as well as the development strategy and fit the two together
  • It isn’t necessarily just a matter of forcing the entire company to become more agile

Frequent Mistakes

Many people have the belief that:

  • Any kind of traditional management approach is bad,
  • Agile is good, and
  • There is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between the two approaches

That over-simplifies what I believe is a much more complicated decision. The result of that is that people often try to force-fit a company’s business to an Agile approach

  • The right solution is to go in the other direction and fit the approach to the company’s business
  • Sometimes that may require blending an Agile approach with a more traditional management approach

How Do You Determine the Right Approach?

Becoming agile for the sake of becoming agile may not be an appropriate goal for all companies. You have to ask:

  • “What problem will it solve?” and
  • “How will it really benefit the company?”

The answer to those questions may be very different depending on the nature of the company’s business.

Product-oriented Companies

A pure Agile approach is best suited for:

  • A company that is in the business of producing some kind of software product. An example would be Intuit and TurboTax or Quicken or
  • Where the software plays a very direct role in leveraging the company’s primary business (an example would be Amazon.com).

Project-oriented Companies

Where that is not the case and the company’s business is only indirectly leveraged by the Agile development process,

  • It can be a lot more difficult to implement an Agile development process and
  • More adaptation may be required to fit the Agile development process to the company’s business environment

An example would be an internal IT application development project)

How the company handles financials and business decisions is a key difference. An Agile development approach is very well-aligned with a product development approach. Here’s an article with more detail on that difference:

Product Development versus Project Development

How Do You Develop a “Business-centric” Approach?

The key to developing a more business-centric approach is to recognize that the overall approach must be designed to satisfy the critical success factors of the company’s business.

  • A good model to look at to understand this better is the idea of “value disciplines”. Check out my article on “Agile and Corporate Culture” for more on that.
  • For example, a company like McDonalds is in a business that demands “operational excellence” as the primary value discipline
  • In that environment, one of the most important critical success factors is going to be reducing costs
  • How does an Agile development approach contribute to achieving that objective? The answer isn’t necessarily obvious.

What Is Needed?

What’s needed in this situation in many cases is:

  • More of a “top-down” business analysis to identify potential areas for process improvement
  • Aligning those initiatives with the critical success factors that are most important to the company’s business

That should be one of the first steps in an Agile transformation for this kind of company:

  • Before you jump to the conclusion that Agile is a good solution to any problem the company might have,
  • Its important to understand how its going to make the company more competitive in the business that they’re in

Enterprise-level Agile Transformation Strategies

There are a number of different potential strategies at an organizational level for implementing an Agile transformation:

  • Some organizations may choose to implement a relatively complete top-to-bottom Agile transformation for their business.
  • Dean Leffingwell’s Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is an example of such a model. However, that can be a very ambitious and gut-wrenching change for many organizations and it also may not be the best solution
  • Fortunately, there are other alternatives companies can select to fit an Agile approach with their business

Organizations typically have different layers of management as shown in the diagram below. And, at each level, there is a choice of:

  • Taking more of an Agile approach or
  • More of a traditional, plan-driven approach:
Making Agile Work for Your Business

Business Process Reengineering

It doesn’t necessarily require throwing out any existing management processes that the company may have:

  • There may be a legitimate reason for some of those management processes
  • Those processes may be already well-aligned with the critical success factors in the business, and
  • It may require some compromise to adapt an Agile development approach to that environment

The approach for doing that analysis is actually similar to a Business Process Reengineering initiative. Check out this article for more on that:

Business Process Reengineering and Agile Transformation

Overall Summary

The important things to recognize are that:

  • This is not a “one size fits all” decision. What is the right approach for one company may not be the best approach for another
  • It’s also not an easy thing to do and “cookbook” solutions don’t generally work

It’s kind of like a chess game to choose the fit the right strategy to each level of the organization as shown in the diagram below:

Making Agile Work for Your Business

You have to consider an Agile development process in the context of the business it operates in. And, many times you need to adapt an Agile development process to fit the business environment.

  • Within the development process itself, the process may be largely the same
  • The differences may be at a higher-level such as the project portfolio management layer that wraps around the project
  • Those higher-level layers could also be Agile, but
  • That kind of complete, top-to-bottom Agile transformation just doesn’t work in all business environments

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

My course, “Agile Project Management for Executives” is specifically designed to help business leaders deal with this challenge.

What is an Enterprise Agile Coach?

What is an Enterprise-level Agile Coach? There are very different Agile Coach roles and when people use the term “Agile Coach” it is often not exactly clear what role that they are referring to.

Enterprise Agile Coach

Typical Team-level Agile Coach Role

Most often, what they’re talking about as an “Agile Coach” is what I would call a team-level Agile Coach. Someone in that role works at a tactical level with individual members of an Agile team to help them become more proficient in executing a Scrum process.

What Is an Enterprise Agile Coach?

The role of an Agile Coach at an enterprise-level needs to be better-defined and differentiated from a normal team-level “Agile Coach” role. Beyond the team-level Agile Coach role, an enterprise-level Agile Coach:

  • Helps companies design and implement an effective Agile transformation for their business
  • Works at a more strategic level to integrate an Agile development process with a company’s business. (See diagram above)

An enterprise-level Agile Coach should be able to see the need for an Agile transformation from a broader business perspective. Check out this article for more on that:

The Impact of the Business Environment

The problem is that there is a big difference between companies whose primary business is focused on product development and other types of businesses.

Product Development Companies

  • Agile works very well in companies that are in the primary business of developing products (particularly software products). Intuit is an example that develops TurboTax, Quicken, and QuickBooks).
  • In those companies, there is a strong and natural alignment between an Agile development process and the overall business goals of the company
  • It is very easy to apply an Agile development process in that environment.

Non-Product Development Companies

It is much more difficult to apply an Agile development process in a company that is not in the primary business of developing products. In that kind of business, the relationship of an Agile development process to the company’s overall business strategy is much more indirect.

In companies that are not in the primary business of developing products:

  • You can’t just force the company to be “Agile” in order to make the company more amenable to an Agile development process
  • The company’s overall culture and business strategy needs to be optimized around the critical success factors for that business

Fitting the Approach to the Business

An enterprise-level Agile Coach role can be very challenging. It’s important to fit the approach to the business rather than force-fitting the business to some arbitrary approach, Here’s an example:

  • If a company is in a business that requires operational excellence, it needs to focus its overall culture and business strategy primarily on efficiency of operations and reducing costs and
  • That doesn’t necessarily align completely with just becoming more “Agile”.
  • In that kind of environment, you have to develop a strategy that considers both the company’s business strategy and the requirements of an Agile development process to develop a well-integrated approach
  • The implementation of that strategy often requires fitting the approach to the company’s business environment rather than simply trying to force-fit the company to some kind of overall Agile approach

Blending Agile and Plan-Driven Project Management

The solution in that kind of environment could be a blend of Agile and traditional plan-driven management principles and practices. That is a lot more difficult thing to do and requires a lot more skill than a typical team-level Agile coach would normally have. It requires an understanding of:

  • Agile principles and practices; as well as
  • Traditional project management principles and practices
  • And a deeper understanding of the principles behind both of them to know how to blend them together as necessary to fit a given situation

Business Perspective

An enterprise Agile Coach should have the ability to look at a very complex, broad-based, enterprise-level business from both:

  • A more strategic high-level business management perspective as well as
  • A more tactical product development process perspective to develop a strategy for integrating the two.

Overall Summary

An Enterprise Agile Coach is a different kind of Agile Coach role:

  • Instead of working at a team-level on improving team performance,
  • He/she needs to work at a much higher strategic level to help a company fit an Agile approach to their business

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

Enterprise-level Agile Implementation

I was recently asked to help a consulting firm work with a client on a very large enterprise-level Agile implementation.  The company had gone totally into Agile across the whole company and the Senior Executives were unhappy with the way it was going:

  • Many projects were going off track and senior management didn’t feel like they had much visibility and predictability
  • They wanted to see if all the development efforts were really well-aligned with the company’s business strategy
  • I think this is a typical problem that many companies face for large-scale, enterprise-level Agile implementations.

The Challenge

The problem is that large companies typically have some kind of management infrastructure such as a PMO  for managing projects. They also typically have some kind of project portfolio management approach to align projects with the company’s business strategy. And, in many cases, their existing management infrastructure probably isn’t totally compatible with an Agile development approach.  The choices are:

  1. Dismantle the existing management infrastructure and simply implement Agile at a development team level with no guiding management infrastructure.  That typically results in problems  such as projects going out of control and not being well-aligned with the company’s business strategy
  2. Implement a new top-to-bottom Agile management approach such as the Scaled Agile Framework.  This is a good solution but requires a major redefinition of the company’s management infrastructure. And, some companies are just not ready to make that kind of gut-wrenching change.
  3. Implement a “bridge” between the existing management infrastructure and the Agile development approach. This might involve using a hybrid management approach overlaid on top of the Agile development process.

Higher Levels of Management

The most important point is that you can’t ignore the need for these higher levels of management. Implementing Agile as a development process only without defining some way that it integrates with the company’s overall business strategy may not be effective. The choices look something like this:

Enterprise Level Agiie Business Strategy

This can be a difficult thing to do because standard Agile methodologies such as Scrum do not provide much guidance above the development team level. And, there are a number of choices at each of these levels.  At each level, there is a choice of implementing a more Agile or a more traditional, plan-driven management approach.  It is somewhat like a chess game as shown in the diagram below:

Enterprise Agile 2

Potential Enterprise-level Agile Frameworks

Here’s how I would position some of the frameworks for filling this need:

Enterprise Agile 3

The three frameworks shown above are:

  1. My own Managed Agile Development model
  2. Scott Ambler’s Disciplined Agile Delivery model
  3. Dean Leffingwell’s Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.