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Selling Agile

Reginald Braithwaite has written a piece in two parts titled "What I've Learned From Sales," in which he applies his experiences as a salesman to the problem of how to win acceptance for agile development practices. The problem of selling Agile to management is well-traveled territory; Ron Jeffries went a step further and wrote that agile shouldn't have to be sold:
First, the word "selling" suggests that the would-be buyer doesn't want whatever we're offering. Otherwise we'd be worried about installing agile or providing XP. Second, Agile or XP isn't what the buyer needs. Don't get me wrong, XP is great stuff. But very few people really want Agile / XP, and those who do don't need us to sell it to them.

Interestingly, Braithwaite doesn't disagree:

People without problems are not good prospects for lightweight development methodologies, new development tools, programming languages, or any other “change for the better.”

Instead, Reginald asks the reader to consider buying and selling as a metaphor for the consideration - and eventual adoption - of new ideas:

Our model here is that the mental process of considering a new idea is the same as the mental process behind buying something. If you are discussing a new idea with someone—even if you aren’t actively trying to “sell” it to them—they are still going through the buying process. And if they have trouble accepting the idea, they will resist, or in sales jargon, they will “raise objections.”

On the face of it, an objection is an expression of a discrepancy between your idea and what someone wants... The great secret we can learn from sales is that this is not true.
What sales professionals understand, says Reginald, is that prospective buyers will often have "hidden objections" which may have nothing to do with their stated objections. The key is to move past objections by identifying the buyer's real problems, and then show how agile development practices can address those problems:
If someone really doesn’t have any applicable near-term objective, you will not be able to introduce a new idea to them. So don’t be surprised if they express very little interest. But when you have an immediate, specific objective in hand, you can position the idea as a solution to their problem.
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Community comments

  • The truth about objections

    by Deborah (Hartmann) Preuss,

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    I like this statment in the first part of the article

    "if they say Lisp has too many parentheses, you might think that they are saying I would use Lisp if it didn't have so many parentheses. The great secret we can learn from sales is that this is not true."

    Certainly this resonates for me: "they" may think it's true, which means it cannot be dismissed or rebuked, without risking disrespect. However, that still doesn't make it true... change tends to bring out knee-jerk reactions, for may reasons. The question is: why is the knee jerking?

  • Re: The truth about objections

    by Deborah (Hartmann) Preuss,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    (I hit enter too fast :-) This of course reminds me of the "five whys" practice I sometimes use in retrospectives or over beer (same thing :-) In it I ask "why" till the root cause surfaces, whereupon that is the thing to discuss, fix, change (or perhaps, sell?)

  • Re: The truth about objections

    by Deborah (Hartmann) Preuss,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    And, I'm realising now, this last comment may not be clear, so, an example:

    Issue: "I can't work in this bullpen, it's too noisy" (assumed solution: I need my cubicle back).

    Q: Why is it so noisy?

    A: People are standing up and having impromptu meetings over other people's desks. Also, they are speaking loudly across the width of the room

    Q: Why?

    A: There is nowhere else to meet, our conference room was commandeered by management in exchange for this team room. Also, Jan and John (testers) need to talk with the developers who all sit on the other side of the bullpen.

    Q: Why can't we get another conference room? Why are Jan and John sitting far from the developers?

    Long story short - the team spontaneously decided to reorganize the bullpen for better flow of dialogue, and with a small meeting table at one end where it didn't distract so much. The noise level dropped immediately!

    That person may still want her cubicle back, mind you. But now, this excuse is removed and a real problem solved in addition.

    There may be another round when the question surfaces under another guise... :-)

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