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Business and Technology Insights

Three Measures to Get Your Leadership to Embrace Agile

March 13, 2019

Agile has zealous supporters at big companies worldwide since it has helped firms such as ING Bank, Amazon, online music powerhouse Spotify, and TV content producer Netflix to flourish. By 2017, 80% of US federal government software projects were agile or iterative. Research firm Gartner predicts 80% of large enterprises will adopt agile by 2021. More importantly, some companies are using agile to transform their businesses—changes that have made them faster to respond to customers and competitors, leaner, and more innovative. However, some senior executives do not deeply understand agile, which is limiting agile adoption in their firms. Skepticism, incomprehensibility, and career concerns have been the main reasons for senior executives’ resistance to agile.

From our experience in helping dozens of companies make the transition to agile, we have observed three measures that can greatly improve the chances of success.

1. Focus on the benefits, not the approaches

To overcome skepticism towards agile methodology and master in your role as a successful agile advocate, present specific outcomes, in dollars and cents. Convince executives that agile will improve operational performance before addressing how those results will be achieved. Showing executives the business impact of agile in financial and operational terms will greatly reduce skepticism. Story telling about successful agile implementations that have demonstrated transformational impact is one of the best ways to tackle skepticism.

If your enterprise leaders tend to lean more towards data, then here’s some research to share with them. According to a study by the American Institute of CPAs and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (AICPA/CIMA), 95% of finance executives reported revenue growth after adopting agile methods, while only 70% of non-agile leaders reported growth. Practitioners of Scrum, the most popular agile methodology, estimate the approach is successful 62% of the time. Other research has shown that the agile methods can speed time to market by 90%, increase sales-staff productivity by 30%, and increase time spent on value-adding activities such as innovation, customer interaction, and problem solving by 130%.

2.  Highlight senior management’s new and important role

Besides emphasizing the benefits of agile, as an agile proponent, you must communicate the key role of top management in mastering agile. This should reduce fears about the impact of agile on your executives’ careers and status. It also helps to describe the practices these leaders will need to stay effective. The role of a leader in an agile organization is to create strategy and empower, rather than micromanage. Senior leaders must establish guidelines that agile squads can apply and operate within. For example, the marketing department of a multinational oil and gas company developed parameters for social media campaigns focusing on controversial environmental issues. After top management defined the campaign standards and objectives, regional and local agile teams quickly tailored messages for their markets.

3. Write your company’s agile manifesto for easy understanding

The final step is to write your own agile manifesto for your company’s leaders—both the C-suite and the board. Your agile manifesto must explore the potential business impacts of agile (in revenue and profit), and point to where this has already happened in similar companies, competitors, and others.

Your messages must be clear. Speaking about agile in everyday terms will reduce its incomprehensibility to those who don’t use the language every day. Avoid acronyms and use the vernacular of business, not software. For instance, instead of using terms familiar to developers like “services oriented architecture” (SOA), explain that the goal is to develop small pieces of software, each of which focuses on a key business task. Liberally use real business examples to illustrate and prove the value of agile. Be sure to invoke the names of highly respected companies and well-regarded CEOs, division heads, etc., who have become big proponents.

Is your agile manifesto ready?

If top management at your company resists agile, now is the time to write your own agile manifesto for them. It should be a lively read, grounded in facts and figures of agile’s business impact at market-leading companies. Your manifesto must be understood by the lay person, not just by the agile advocates. And it needs to clearly explain the vital role that senior management will play in an agile enterprise. Click here to find out more about agile and accelerate digital transformation of your enterprise. 

Nidhi is the Global Head of Enterprise Agility in the Consulting and Services Integration practice at TCS. She has more than 25 years of experience in selling and delivering consulting solutions across the breadth of technology landscape. Her work includes IT strategy, process, and enterprise architecture practice areas. She has presented papers at several conferences, and is also a certified facilitator.