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Executives don't know what Good Agile is...


As a category, Executives tend to be well informed people.

I truly believe that statement and want to keep it in mind as we explore this observation further.


I have recently been engaging with several Sr. level Agile practitioners and coaches.

In part because I am using this [crazy-wacky COVID-19] time to take advantage of many of the online trainings offered at deep discounts. This is a great time to learn. And, with many of these trainings you meet new folks and hear new things.

One that stuck out to me was that Executives do not seem to know what good Agile is, much less great Agile. So, they move forward with mediocre or even bad Agile and do not know any different.

I began to ponder this observation. I talked with the CEO of a local well-respected Agile Coaching firm:

"is this right; Do CEO’s not know what good Agile is?"

He tended to agree.

So, I started to reflect back on a few engagements and conversions I have observed, led and been a part of. I looked at the engagement of the executive.

For the purpose of this blog post, we will assume an executive is someone with skin in the company game. This is a person who is in the room where it happens.

A “VP of Engineering” who is the best engineer on the team and is still writing code but does not engage with the PE firm or sign off on the financials is not an executive. This is not about title, it is about focus and accountability. If the business and the customer is not the most important thing to this person, they are not an executive - they are a badass engineer who happens to be in charge of a people budget.

One might ask - why are you defining this?

Here is why - and it is a root issue of this very subject.

The “not really an executive” VP described above is exactly who “Agile” has been sold to for the last 20 years.

There is a selling formula that works in the Agile Consulting world. Network with these “techies” and get them to convince their CEO’s and CFO’s to buy in. It works.

The side-effect is that CEO’s, COO’s and CFO’s never really understand Agile in their terms.

They are more or less cornered into adopting it with a smile.

This tech leader is likely leading a critical team or initiative and has said something along the lines of -- “I need a few hundred thousand to do an Agile conversion - then you will get your stuff on time”. CEO’s mostly love this - they see the easy button, throw a few dollars at it and we are good for life - let’s do it.

Fast forward to now and these CEO’s, COO’s and CFO’s have danced this dance too many times and it is not working. From their perspective they have Great Agile - they have done it 4 times and all of the checkboxes have been checked. They have PI planning sessions and stand ups and something called a retrospective - they even heard about a demo.

So, they paid the price, all the plans were hit, the metrics say they have achieved Agile. This leaves one conclusion in many of their minds.
Agile simply does not work.

Here is the bad news if you are a consultant, practitioner or coach in the Agile space - we did it to ourselves.


My view on how “pitch” an agile conversion is --- NOT to do it.

I pitch business outcomes only, then tie them back to agility outcomes. Both must be achieved to be successful.

This makes the ultimate deliverable a business value; something a true executive can understand.

The typical response I get from my fellow “agile conversion experts” is something along the lines of -- “well, I think I have them close”. The VP of Engineering has the budget, but does not really have insight into larger Business Issues. I would need the COO for that, or maybe even the CRO or CEO. That would just kill this, best not to go there.

This is very typical and very short sighted. Most of these endeavors will fail and another set of executives will have yet another poor Agile journey.

Agile is not about the rituals - Agile is about the business and its ability to deliver value to the customer.

Agile is not something you “DO”.

Agile is something you “ARE”, or that you “ARE NOT”.

Good. Bad. Mediocre. Great.

These are all measures or metric levels, but they are focused incorrectly.

We have taught executives to measure doing Agile instead of being Agile.

There are ways to have it all. I am a true believer in the Agile mindset and the power it has to transform a business into a self-healing machine that serves the customer and the employees. If you have a company that does that, it will be profitable and it will grow.

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