Given the benefits, you would think that ‘selling’ an Agile philosophy would be fairly straightforward. In my experience, it’s anything but.
Agile is either introduced as a directive from the top, or as an organic push from the ‘bottom’, the shop floor or engine room. Between them sits Malcolm.
Malcolm is someone for whom I have tremendous respect (and plenty of sympathy). He is a middle manager, spending his days translating instructions from above into actions below (or, as he describes it, tap dancing in a minefield).
Malcolm is suspicious of Agile. He is usually stressed, stretched thin, and has little to no time for fuzzy concepts, Scrum charts and sticky notes.
When you need friends in the business to help you implement your ideas, making Malcolm feel threatened and vulnerable leaves you only with an enemy resistant to change. It’s like poking a bear with a stick. You’ll get it moving, but not necessarily in the direction you want it to!
Adopting Agile can sometimes feel like a battle. Getting Malcolm onside is half the battle won. Start by demonstrating how what you’re doing (implementing Agile) ultimately makes it easier for Malcolm to do his job.
Initially, there’s always going to be a disparity between adoption and value. Agile at its infancy is a concept that’s going to change almost everything about how the organisation and its people think, work and go about their business, but the value of that change takes time to show return.
By teaching Malcolm how he can turn the ‘concept’ of Agile into actionable reality, he can start to appreciate how it makes it easier for him to do his job. Show him how it makes his work more predictable, which, if you think of it, is exactly what he needs when it’s his responsibility to keep the engine running and the client happy.
If Malcolm is going to support you, he needs to know what’s in it for him.
It’s not enough to tell him that changing the focus from individual performance to team delivery will make the business more efficient, or that swapping lengthy planning sessions for constant evaluation and reinvention throughout the delivery process will save both time and money and result in better outcomes.
You need to understand what it is that Malcolm is entrusted to deliver, what information he needs, and how switching to Agile will help him get that information faster and more efficiently than he can get it today.
Give him the tools to establish trust with his teams, to step back and give them more responsibility, to become a facilitator and remover of obstacles, and watch the organisation begin to transform.
If you agree that Agile is important, that it’s essential to your company’s survival, then it’s in everyone’s interest to embrace it.
Start with Malcolm.