Good teams require engagement, common goals and rational expectations.

Good teams require engagement, common goals and rational expectations.

Why don’t Agile implementations succeed? In Daily Process Thoughts, I posited five major categories of behavior that can lead Agile implementations to failure. Buy-in is the first of the five categories.  Buy-in is represented by the engagement of project teams, management (IT and corporate), business personnel (those folks outside of IT) and other stakeholders (which may include vendors or partners) in implementing Agile techniques within the organization.  Groups that don’t buy-in can feel that changes required to implement Agile are being forced upon them or that the changes are will benefit someone else generating resistance to change. Buy-in is generated through engagement, common goals and rational expectations.

As organizations work through the changes required to implement and embrace Agile, the stakeholders that are invested in the legacy processes  or are thought leaders in the group that is targeted for change need to be engaged in shaping that change. Agile teams, one of the core groups of stakeholders, can leverage the concepts of self-organization and self-management to help shape Agile techniques. Using retrospectives teams can evolve the techniques they used based on their day-to-day experience. Providing stakeholders, such as product owners, Scrum Masters, development teams and project sponsors with the ability to evolve the techniques they have to use generates engagement.  Engagement can be directly linked to buy-in the groups that actually have to use the Agile techniques feel they are in control of how they work.

Organizational change is easier to implement and sustain if everyone involved in the change is pursuing common goals. Common goals have even more power when they are stated in business terms so they cut across department boundaries. Conflict usually ensues when parts of the organization have different goals. For example, one common goal mismatch is between Agile teams and the Project Management Office (PMO).  The goal of the Agile team is to maximize the delivery of value, while the goal of the PMO is the minimization of risk. As a result, the Agile team will want to reduce any vestige of overhead that would slow them down and the PMO will try to require checks and balances. The clash of goals will make it difficult for the PMO to buy-in to change to Agile. Common goals allow teams (or organizations) to visualize a set of shared outcomes. The focus of Agile techniques on the delivery of business value provides a common goal. Agile’s focus on delivering value quickly, using a cadence of one to four weeks, creates a feedback loop that reinforces progress toward common goals reinforcing buy-in.

Agile is often sold to the organization as a way to increase customer satisfaction, productivity and quality, while reducing cost and time-to-market. While all these promises can be true, attaining all of the promised benefits is dependent on the techniques that are implemented and rarely do they deliver maximum benefits instantaneously. Agile, like any process change, can be oversold. The case for change needs to be based on rational expectations. Buy-in is easier to develop if the expectations are believable. For example, if an organization begins its Agile journey with the implementation of Scrum, improved customer satisfaction should be the major promised expectation.  Promises of benefits that can’t be delivered will generate cognitive dissonance which can cause the implementation to fail. Setting reasonable and rational expectations ensures that the organization does not lose faith in Agile.

Developing buy-in for an Agile implementation is critical in order to have the organizational fortitude for the required organizational change. Engaging the groups that will be impacted by Agile techniques will ensure that the techniques are tailored to the organization so they are effective and efficient. Engagement helps to develop buy-in for the changes.  Agile provides a platform to rally around the common goal of delivering business value.  Common goals provide a tool to align team and projects for greater effectiveness. However, Agile is not a silver bullet.  Promising that Agile will solve all of an organization’s ills rarely turn out to be true.  The expectations for what Agile can deliver needs to rational so that results can be delivered, which, in turn provides a virtuous feedback loop.  Buy-in needs to be planned and managed like any other project asset, because without buy-in any organizational change implementation will fail.