How Do You Sell Agile to Your Control Partners?
When selling the value of agile transformation, the focus is often on the benefits to the sponsoring business or to delivery team members.
But in most organizations, there are multiple internal stakeholders beyond these who will help or hinder your progress towards becoming agile. Control partners such as Finance or Risk might be skeptical or downright resistant to fundamental changes to delivery approaches.
So how do you sell agile to these stakeholders – what’s in it for them?
Finance departments want to ensure that the company’s funding resources are being utilized effectively and that good accounting principles such as writing off sunk costs are being practiced. They also want to know that project investment decisions are delivering expected business results. Hence, they are likely to be somewhat leery of approaches which eschew traditional safety blankets such as detailed requirements baselines or multilevel Gantt charts.
Agile delivery focuses on early realization of business value but also early, objective indication of critical issues which can trigger timely project termination decisions. Agile also supports changing the traditional project funding model from full scope commitment to a value-driven tranche approach which can reduce non-value add gold plating or the use of excess project budgets to fund unnecessary PCRs.
HR departments have significant effort invested in tools such as job families and programs such as performance management or individual recognition. The transition of delivery staff from specialists to generalizing specialists as well as the need to recognize teams as much as individuals might concern HR professionals from both a work effort and a attrition risk perspective.
While there is little doubt that there will need to be effort spent in changing the current state, effective agile delivery can result in higher levels of employee engagement and job satisfaction which in turn can reduce common challenges for HR teams such as low employee morale or unplanned time away from work.
The agile journey can also generate other more subtle benefits such as a broader pipeline for leadership talent which results from delivery staff taking on greater ownership for team development and self-organization, as well as better business continuity and succession planning through the cross-training and broader learning that are natural outcomes of becoming generalizing specialists.
Risk partner concerns with agile delivery relate to the potential impacts of poorly designed or implemented changes as well as the potential change storms which can result if the frequency of changes exceeds stakeholders’ ability to adopt changes.
While these are valid concerns, they assume an undisciplined approach is taken to agile delivery.
Disciplined agile advocates early and regular engagement of key enterprise stakeholders to ensure that a fulsome set of requirements is incorporated into solution design. While continuous deployment might be practiced within non-production domains to reduce implementation windows, this does not imply that the same high frequency must be applied for implementing production changes.
Agile reduces delivery risk by requiring teams to sufficiently explore key areas of technical and operational concern early in the project lifecycle. On traditional projects, such risks rarely get effectively addressed till late in execution phases by which point the organization has expended significant funding and the common response is to throw good money after bad.
Agile also reduces the magnitude of changes through an increased frequency of delivery. Yes, the first implemented change might be significant, but subsequent releases will incrementally evolve capabilities making it easier for operational teams to absorb the changes.
Finally, with a greater emphasis on quality throughout the lifecycle, there is a reduced likelihood of hidden defects which are a common source of operational or reputational risks.
Procurement groups will be concerned that earlier engagement of vendors might increase delivery risk due to a lack of a fully detailed requirements baseline. They might also worry that changes to funding approaches will reduce their ability to negotiate cost effective deals with vendors who were used to trading pricing reductions for long-term contracts.
Procurement approaches will need to evolve by moving away from traditional full lifecycle fixed cost contracts to incentive-oriented contracts which encourage vendors to deliver the highest value and highest risk items early and frequently. This can in turn result in a healthier relationship with less procurement headaches as vendors will be less inclined to low ball bids and then use costly project change requests to make their profit.
Agile also increases transparency of vendor delivery through frequent demos, business value milestone-based payments and backlog visibility which will make it easier for procurement teams to administer active contracts.
As with any change, it is crucial to start with answering why it is beneficial to not just the organization as a whole but to individual impacted stakeholders who are needed to support the agile transformation journey.