Agile: Don’t Sell It, Demonstrate It

By Robert Boyd Some people believe it’s possible to sell anything to anybody, but you can’t sell behavior and you shouldn’t try to sell agile. Both must be learned and internalized. This is not to say you can’t persuade your C-levels of the merits of agile, but selling alone won’t be enough. Instead, consider substituting “demonstrate” for “sell.” Executive interest in agile will rest on results and outcomes, not theories. To put it another way, if the business needs to dig a hole, talking about the merits of using a shovel over a spoon won’t get the hole dug and won’t bring any value to the business. Instead, demonstrate how a great and mighty hole can be dug more quickly and efficiently using a shovel. Then do it again, just to show that it’s repeatable. When I started using agile, my company and CEO were faced with a particularly challenging business opportunity requiring us to deliver an innovative software solution in three months. The CEO asked if development could make a hard commitment of three months, but the answer was no. At the time, we followed a waterfall paradigm; we knew we couldn’t execute successfully in such a short time frame using our current methods and practices. Our business needed an alternative method and we had just researched various agile methodologies, so we were eager to experiment. Being in the right place at the right time with the proper agile mindset, I was able to implement an agile scrum variant that allowed us to pivot 180 degrees and build a software solution within that three-month window. Agile and scrum made it possible for development and product management to capitalize on that business opportunity quickly and efficiently. Did the CEO want us to do agile? He didn’t care what means or tools we used as long as we were successful. Adopting a flavor of agile gave him and the business the desired outcome. And once he saw the positive result, he asked why all the development teams weren’t using “that agile thing.” The CEO was never sold the idea that agile was anything special; instead, we demonstrated that agile could bring special results. The CEO, the board and the shareholders wanted the company to be successful and profitable. If the way to achieve success was both repeatable and sustainable, all the better. It didn’t matter whether we achieved that success using waterfall, agile or any other software methodology. The R&D manager and head of product management suggested to the CEO that the only real possibility of success lay in using an agile scrum framework and practices. This was essentially the only executive coaching needed. The high visibility resulting from using agile scrum, and agile’s built-in ability for the team to absorb changing requirements, gave the company a fighting chance to take advantage of the business opportunity. To move a business at its highest levels often requires demonstrable success. A business may still choose not to change after a demonstration or two, but what are your chances for change if all you have are theories and anecdotal data from other companies? Robert Boyd, CSM, CSPO, began his career with the U.S. Navy, working on nuclear submarines. He transferred his skills to the private sector, working on submarine combat systems at Raytheon for 22 years where he helped streamline processes and systems for the Australian Collins Submarine. He moved to Australia permanently in 2002 and began creating new software development processes for Integrated Research in Sydney. He also introduced agile methodologies to software and product management departments, resulting in a 300 percent increase of feature deliveries. He can be reached at
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