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3 Pillars Of Executive Support For Agile Adoption

by Mike Bria on Mar 11, 2009 |

An executives job is not over once they've justified agile to their teams and paid for training. To make a transition successful, its required this executive provide sustained support. Esther Derby takes a moment to describe what she believes to be the 3 most important aspects of this ongoing support.

In her recent Agile Journal article, The Three Pillars of Executive Support for Agile Adoption, Esther gives readers some help making their agile transitions work. Here's a quick-look summary of Esther's three pillars:

  • "The Power of No"
    Demonstrate your commitment to the transition by declining people's request to fall back on old habits:
    It's predictable that when there's a new method, process, or policy, people will request exceptions so they can continue to do things the old way. Well-intentioned people in your organization will come to you with a variety of reasons why their situation is different, and why they should be granted an exception.
    ...
    Demonstrate your support for the agile transition by answering these requests with a firm "No."
    Esther of course acknowledges that there will come up emergency situations that require exception, but that in general the best way to make the new agile methods "status quo" is to demonstrate a firm commitment to having your organization stick to process during adoption.

  • "Address Systemic Issues"
    People are likely to have asked for the exception in response to something causing them pain, something systematically problematic with your organization. Discover what that is:
    Once you've said "No," ask some questions. Find out what's behind the exception request, and look for patterns. Three common patterns that I see driving exceptions are technical debt, overstuffing the pipe, and misaligned reward structures.
    ...
    No methodology [in and of itself] can fix these issues. These are management problems, and it takes management to fix them. Without management attention to systemic issues, you will achieve incremental improvements, at best.

  • "The Ability to Hear Unwelcome News"
    Adopting agile means pushing more responsibility down into the hands of your teams, and with this requires that management be receptive to these teams telling them "no".

    Esther recalls a team she worked with whose manager refused to listen to them when they told him "no":
    This manager's response didn't motivate the team to try harder. They knew that the manager wish for 600 points in 12 weeks was just that-a wish and a hope, not a realistic goal. Teams will try to reach an ambitious goal when they believe there is a chance of success. It was clear to the team that, in this case, there was no chance. The manager's response made him look like a fool.

    You don't want to appear foolish, so when the team and the data say "no," take management action. Have the difficult conversations and make the difficult choices to reduce scope or extend the date.

To get the full picture of Esther's message, take a moment to read The Three Pillars of Executive Support for Agile Adoption.

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