Selling Agile, Part 1: How to Get Buy-in from Your Managers and Customers

You’re smart. You’ve done your homework, you’ve seen the potential results, and you want to practice agile software development in your organization. But what if your colleagues are hesitant about agile? There may come a time when you need to “sell” agile in your organization, whether it’s to management, the business, your customer, or your development team. This post focuses on selling agile to customers, product owners and management.

There are a few ways around resistance to agile adoption that will work temporarily. You can fly under the radar (practice “stealth agile”) for a while, but eventually you will need to address management and customer concerns directly. Let’s look at some common objections:

Things are fine, why do we need to change?
Well, maybe everything really is fine. If waterfall is successfully providing the best value for the customer, then you should keep doing it. But if it’s not working, from the team’s or the customer’s perspectives, you may need to show new possibilities to the person who has his or her head in the sand.

Agile doesn’t allow for longterm planning – how do we budget?
Longterm planning in agile project management is simply approached from a different direction. Instead of bottom-up planning, agile uses top-down planning and includes only the detail appropriate for each iteration. This is a completely different way of thinking, but once people see it in action, it’s not difficult to understand.

Where’s my Gantt chart?
Gantt charts have been around for years, but can’t tell you how many features are complete and ready for production. Instead, agile uses a burndown chart to show how the project is progressing. You can see at a glance how much work has been completed, and you can spot trends early rather than waiting until the end of the project…when it may be too late to make changes.

I can’t wait an entire iteration for that feature! (or, I can’t wait an entire iteration before I change my mind!)
Waiting an entire month before making modifications can seem like a long time, so check to be sure your iterations aren’t too long. But you don’t necessarily need to wait until the end of the iteration to push a feature into production. Product owners should be looking at the features as they are completed and not waiting until the end of the iteration.

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I’ll have to talk to engineers? But I don’t know how to talk to engineers!
They work in the dark. They come in at noon and stay past midnight. They drink Red Bull 24/7. Engineers can carry a certain…mystique…to people who don’t know them. Often, all it takes is a little familiarity. Facilitate introductions, invite product owners or managers to a group lunch or happy hour, and show them firsthand that engineers are regular people and do have social skills.

The next post in this series will address techniques for selling agile development to your team, and the process of selling.


For detailed insight into all of these concepts and more, you may want to check out Michele Sliger’s Selling Agile webcast. Michele has a passion for helping those in traditional software development environments cross the bridge to agility, and this webcast shares her wealth of personal experience and expertise in an approachable and knowledgeable way.

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