Agile management is an increasingly popular strategy for moving projects to completion. What started as a management option used almost exclusively by software developers is now being used across industries. You no longer have to work for a tech giant or quirky startup to incorporate the agile process.
However, you do have to sell your team on the idea of agile project management. While some leaders will be on board, others may have reservations. Here’s how you can win over your company on and spread agile management style through your organization.
Strategize How to Approach Senior Leadership
Many IT department heads and operations managers need approval from senior management to change their management strategy to an agile system. This has implications across the entire company, which can be intimidating.
Department heads can be so well-versed in the agile process that they forget not everyone is familiar with the concept. Melanie Franklin, director at Agile Change Management Limited, offers some advice for speaking to senior managers about changing to the agile approach from traditional waterfall methods of management:
Discuss agile as a high-level concept; don’t let your CFO get lost in the details.
Assume no previous knowledge of agile management by your senior team; this will help you explain it on the right level.
Don’t say that agile is the only option. Most senior leaders have worked with different management styles: Your argument will be more effective if you explain why this option is the best for the company right now.
Your management team doesn’t need a lecture. Open up your pitch to questions and have an honest discussion about agile management. This address everyone’s concerns.
Beta Test Agile on Small Teams
You don’t have to revolutionize your company overnight with agile management. Technical writer Will Kelly actually thinks it’s possible to approach agile with a soft sell as you start using it within your organization. Project managers can study agile changes internally to prove that it works and Kelly suggests holding brown bag lunches to learn about and discuss the management style.
Interestingly, consultant Scott Ambler also encourages this “small experiment” process when he talks to developers who want to bring agile management into their organizations. Instead of changing an entire department’s approach, you could suggest using agile methodology on one upcoming project or an annual task that involves multiple teams. This will introduce agile practices to a number of employees and also give you a success story when it goes well.
Explain How Agile Management Can Benefit the Entire Company
If you decide to do a soft roll-out of agile within your team and want to expand it across the organization, then you need to be prepared to sell the concept to department heads and managers across all teams. This is often easier said than done.
According to the VersionOne State of Agile report, agile development continues to stay siloed within a few teams. While almost 95 percent of survey respondents said their organizations use agile management, more than half of their organization’s teams don’t. Furthermore, 80 percent said agile use in their organization was at or below a “still maturing” phase.
While an IT or operations team might embrace agile, other teams can be reluctant to jump in. Fortunately, agile is expanding, and other departments are starting to embrace this management style, possibly because of the success rate: 98 percent of respondents reported success with their agile projects.
Agile in Marketing
One of the first places to look at agile management is marketing, a constantly-changing department that often relies on other teams for messaging.
“Marketing is going through its own Agile renaissance in response to rapidly changing markets,” Brie Rangel, director of client services at IMPACT, writes. “Annual marketing plans simply don't get the job done anymore. Too much can change in one year for even the most well-thought plan to remain relevant.”
By focusing on content, individuals, and interactions over processes and tools, and by responding to change, her team is able to keep up with the latest memes and media trends without retooling their entire budget and strategy.
Rangel and her team aren’t the only ones applying agile to their marketing team. Andrea Fryrear, agile marketing coach and author of Death of a Marketer, shares more than a dozen agile marketing case studies at Marketing Insider Group. These include tech-based companies like SEMRush to traditional organizations like General Mills, Santander Bank, and Northern Arizona University. You can present these as examples of how to successfully apply agile management to your marketing team.
Agile in Sales
Sales teams too are realizing their potential with the help of agile methods, including sprints. Dan Sincavage, co-founder of Tenfold, believes agile management is no longer a process that should be used only by software developers. A sales team might have a 30-day sprint where they try to generate a total of 1,000 leads. The goal is reviewed daily and team members discuss any potential roadblocks to reaching it.
“This highly flexible process of constant adaptation and improvement allows agile sales teams to respond to the specific and immediate needs of clients,” Sincavage writes. So, for instance, as the leads come in, the team can set an additional goal of closing deals, using the lead calls to reach sales targets.
Agile in Human Resources
Human resources is another department that can benefit from agile management. Alexis Croswell at Culture AMP says her company uses the agile approach to improve their employee onboarding process. For example, they developed and then changed their onboarding tools through new hire feedback. The HR team meets whenever a new hire leaves within their first six months to learn what might have gone wrong.
Jeff Gothelf, author, executive coach and co-founder of Neo Innovation, also sees the connection between agile management and human resources. While more HR departments are attempting to use agile processes, he says they struggle with traditional management methods deeply ingrained in their organizations.
Gothelf adds there are two ways HR teams can transition from traditional to agile:
visit digitally native companies like Netflix and Zappos to see how their teams use the agile approach
conduct regular retrospectives to learn how their team is working to complete a project.
Both approaches force HR teams to take a step back and look at what they’re doing and what needs to be done differently.
Highlight the Benefits of Agile Management
You know your senior leadership’s concerns and needs and can tailor your pitch to their concerns. An easy way to win over management is to align agile with your company’s goals and concerns. For example, the five features below can help you steer the conversation showcasing agile as a solution to existing problems instead of a completely new management style that changes your company.
Lisa Crispin, agile testing practitioner and coach, says transparency is a major selling point on agile management for most CEOs. Even the most detailed project plans can miss deadlines and leaders are often shocked when a project falls behind because management tends to learn that a project is behind when it’s too far gone to catch up. With agile practices in place, leaders can identify problems early on and make sure the project stays on track.
There’s less risk of going off the rails with the incremental approach of agile management because teams are able to quickly adjust to changes in client goals and demands.
“Oftentimes, a client will not have a clear goal in mind when a project begins; rather, they know they need development work done to improve metrics or profit margins,” the team at GlowTouch Technologies writes. “As the project goes on, requirements become clearer. Agile allows for this and can adapt to moving goalposts.”
In other words, it’s easier for teams to make small changes to better accommodate requirements than attempt a major revision halfway through a project.
Successful project managers need predictability to estimate the time and cost of the work. Without accurate estimates, projects are doomed to run late and over budget.
The team at LeanKit emphasizes the value of predictability in agile development. Team leaders estimate the time and cost of a project in small segments instead of factoring in dozens of potential risk factors at the outset a project. They focus on immediate needs and risks for each step as it occurs throughout the process.
Agile management requires employees to set aside the hero mentality and work as a team. Leadership coach Patrick Mayfield has seen multiple companies step out of siloed work to form autonomous, self-organizing teams that support each other. When done well, Mayfield says an agile approach to project management can benefit your whole company culture.
Every aspect of agile development ties back to the customer, client or target audience. Teams base solutions on customer needs and use cases. This ensures the products or services provide value and are received well.
“By focusing features on the needs of real customers, each feature incrementally delivers value, not just an IT component,” Ekaterina Novoseltseva, CMO at Apiumhub, writes.
The goal is to assuage your team that agile management will make their jobs easier and not just add extra meetings and elements to current projects.
Prepare to Address Drawbacks and Concerns
If you’re really going to make a strong case in favor of agile management, then you need to be prepared to face down the arguments against it. Agile coach Dominic Krimmer took the five most common arguments against agile development and provides information to counter those.
For example, it’s common for leaders to say that scrum, an agile framework for completing projects, won’t work for their company. Krimmer says to remember that it takes time to implement any new system and that using a scrum master to guide the team’s first agile attempt can lead to success, always the best argument.
Ben Walpole, global mobile software architect at Aviva, says many of the concerns that managers highlight related to agile don’t have anything to do with the development style at all. Instead, the problems are in the company management style itself, with a lack of trust and communication at the fore.
“If you find yourself in an unending cycle of meetings, often about the same subjects, then you should question why there is so much uncertainty in the work your team is trying to get through or why there is so much disagreement on the way forward,” he writes. “These problems...are likely to indicate a lack of preparation, direction, and vision.”
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