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How do I get the senior leadership team to buy into Agile?

How do I get the senior leadership team to buy into Agile?’ is a question I’m often asked.

It’s a great question if the leadership team value the principles and values upon which Agile is built.

It’s not a great question if they don’t.

If your organisation is profoundly conservative and value control above all else, chances are you’re going to be banging your head against a brick wall trying to sell ‘Agile’ as an organisational imperative.

Agile is a great solution, but it isn’t a solution for everything. It’s a great answer to a specific question.

Frame the question differently

One of the remarkable frameworks to emerge from our Certified Agile Leadership course is the ‘Competing Values Framework’, and its purpose is to help organisations identify what they most value.

The framework segments four primary values: Control. Compete. Create. Collaborate.

A company like McKinsey & Company values competition, both internally and externally, as fuel for competitive advantage and high-performance.

Sure, they need to exercise control. Yes, they invest a great deal in creating innovative products and services. And collaboration is a key element in their ability to find and deliver great solutions.

But ‘compete’ is their highest value. On both the organisational and the individual level.

For HMRC. It’s Control.

Again, there is collaboration, competition and the ability to create. Control, however, is the primary value, and that is the lens through which the all-seeing, omnipresent HMRC will operate.

Campaigning for Agile is easier when you dot the i’s and cross the t’s

In my experience, if ‘control’ is the primary value, and it’s asserted as the dominant value, harmony is restored.

Fear and anxiety walk out the back door, and reason pops in for a beer.

If we accept and agree that control is the most important thing, where might Agile have a home?

In this area of our organisation. In that pocket of excellence. In the gaps between the large clusters, the ‘bridges’ that connect and inform.

These are where ‘Agile’ becomes imperative.

If we want to thrive in the competitive landscape, this is where we must innovate. That is where collaboration and rapid iteration is essential. This is where responsiveness is key.

In those specific areas, the case for ‘Agility’ is present in the purpose of that team, the vision they serve and the functions they are optimised to perform for the organisation as a whole.

Public Exhibit A

When you have small, high-performance teams creating continuous value, in short, Sprint cycles, you have evidence that valuable outcomes are being delivered. In many cases, the individuals on the team are happier, more collaborative and check all the boxes that HR adore.

Replicating that success in other pockets of excellence within the organisation delivers evidence that high performance, creativity and collaboration is scalable and reliable.

How are they more creative? How is there greater collaboration?

They have the freedom to discover. They are empowered to experiment, grow empirical knowledge, learn and iterate. It builds momentum.

As they learn, they discuss, review, project, assess and share both their learning and their discovery.

It builds a repository of what works, what doesn’t work and presents a new hypothesis to test in future sprint planning sessions. It provides a wealth of valuable, proven data and insight for teams to discuss and brainstorm around in sprint reviews.

In retrospectives.

“First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”

– Nicholas Klein

Sometimes, the value of an organisation that resists ‘Business Agility’ initially is that it gives the pilot teams time to get it right.

They have time to embed the mindset and culture of Business Agility.

They have time to demonstrate value through continuous improvement and rapid iteration to even the most sceptical individuals within the organisation.

They have time to become a high-performing, Agile team that unleashes people’s creativity and passion.

Authentic. Adaptive. Responsive.

How do you sell Agile in a conservative environment?

You build it. You demonstrate it. You prove it.