No Management Buy In For Agile? Then Earn It!

Getting Leadership to Buy Into Agile

I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “We tried agile scrum and it didn’t work.” This is mostly from their first-hand experiences of trying agile and failing or hearing others share their horror stories and they are terrified to try it themselves. Whenever I hear these words, I think to myself, “I bet they didn’t implement scrum correctly.”

Why Scrum Fails

In my experience, the misuse of scrum methods leads to management’s resistance to agile scrum. It all boils down to the fact that scrum fails when the Development Team operates independent of any corporate objectives and strategic milestones.

When Development Teams operate without strategic direction, agile becomes the team’s excuse to work on whatever they feel like working on. I’m amazed when I asked why teams function this way and I hear, “We are agile, we will figure it out as we go.”

I have seen developers build whatever they want whenever they want without: a scrum team, prioritized backlog, and groomed stories and time boxed development cycles or sprints. This way of functioning is known as cowboy coding. With cowboy coding, the developers get to work on fun stuff, challenging stuff, easy stuff, whatever, without any consideration or coordination with the business. Remember, true agile works hand-in-hand with the business.

Even in cases where there are Development Teams using true scrum best practices, I have seen teams still not take into consideration corporate milestones. When key business areas have dependencies on deliverables beyond the time box of the sprint, say 3 months down the road, I have heard the Development Team respond with, “We do not plan that far ahead; we only plan 2 weeks in advance.”

No wonder leaders can be very cynical about agile scrum!

Steps to Leadership Buy In

If you plan to transition to agile and you do not plan to accomplish the 4 steps outlined below, your efforts can result in another horror story.

The 4 Steps to Scrum Success:

  1. Ensure management and the Development Team have proper agile scrum training
  2. Define project milestones for proper project tracking
  3. Develop as an agile team
  4. Status report progress on regular basis

Leadership must understand agile scrum teams are functioning in accordance with standard practices. For this to happen, we recommend management attend high-level agile scrum training, so they understand how they may have to change their management style and expectations. In addition, every member on the scrum team should go through formal training to ensure everyone is on the same page as to how to operate as a fully functional agile team.

Once the leadership and the agile scrum team are formally trained, a coach should be brought in not only to guide the team through training, but to support and build the right behavior through the execution of their first 3 sprints.

Remember that agile is more than a process. It’s a mindset shift. That’s why we believe training and coaching after training are so important.

Leadership needs to feel confident that the team can deliver to business objectives and corporate milestones. “Figuring it out as you go” and “It will be done when it’s done” are not agile. They are excuses for not wanting to be accountable.

We have a way to guide Development Teams through the process of breaking down high level requirements and creating a release plan that lines up with the strategic roadmap. In Chapter 2 of the GSD Scrum Handbook, we talk about The GSD Gold Approach to Project Planning in detail. This can help you demonstrate to your leadership how agile scrum can and does support corporate objectives.

Every Development Team has a Product Owner that works hand-in-hand with the business. The Product Owner represents the business, captures requirements in the form of stories (or product functionality), prioritizes those stories into the backlog and then guides the team on what to work on each sprint. It is the Product Owner’s responsibility to ensure backlog items are reflecting the organization’s strategic roadmap from a functionality and timing perspective.

Another point of contention with leadership is visibility into how their Development Teams are tracking to completing their committed work. Throughout the sprint, Story Boards and Burndown charts provide visibility and traceability throughout the sprint cycles. Both of these tools should be available to all members of an organization at all times either in a tool or on a whiteboard. We talk about this in Chapter 6 of the GSD Scrum Handbook.

The agile Development Team must also be able to report project progress beyond the limits of the sprint. In Chapter 10 of the GSD Scrum Handbook, we explain how to accomplish this.

Once leadership has visibility through regular status reports and sprint transparency, they will begin to have confidence the Development Teams can deliver against their strategic roadmaps. Delivery to corporate objectives proves scrum works efficiently and effectively.

If you have any suggestions or comments from your own personal experiences, please post them below.

Want more details about how scrum can work for your organization?
We recommend you get your own copy of the GSD Scrum Handbook.

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April Shepherd

April Shepherd  503.307.9072

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