A friend of mine recently asked me for advice on convincing his boss to start adopting some ‘agile-inspired’ principles in the department he looks after.

He explained that there is an anti-agile culture where he works and that questions over working practices generally got shot down quite quickly. That made his life more difficult because he hadn’t got the freedom he needed to make improvements where he felt they could be made. How could he sell agile to an organisation who don’t want to have the discussion?

I’ve spoken to a lot of people in that position and I can tell you that in my experience, you can’t. Nor should you because you’d almost definitely fail.

If you make the assumption that the business is already somewhat profitable, then why should they change? A change might threaten their culture, disrupt working processes and maybe even require a change to their structure and roles. If they’re even kinda successful, they’re doing something right!

If you try to sell agile as change, then you’re doomed from the get-go. A lot of organisations have a real tough time separating change from risk and that scares them. People hate change!

Point 1 : Talk about improvement, not change,.. and leave the ‘A’ word out of it.

You can't sell agile because it can't be bought.

By-the-book Scrum is very different from a ‘traditional’ software development process. It mandates a new schedule, new roles and completely new ways of working. In a learning organisation, I agree almost entirely with the Scrum approach, but what I can’t get on board with is the idea that one day, you just change.

Of course, Scrum doesn’t suggest overnight change. The problem is that it doesn’t suggest anything about how to start, so a lot of teams just dive right on in! No coach worth their salt would attempt the ‘Big Bang’ implementation but I’ve seen a lot of in-house transformations take that road.

The first problem with that is it draws too much attention to process. Immediately you’re off to a bad start because any failure will be associated with the new process.

The second problem is that it’s just not very agile, is it? It’s a ready baked, feature rich pattern of work and you took it all in one gulp. What happened to making small changes, measuring and then adjusting your plan?

The biggest problem though is that when it represents such a big change, it quickly becomes a destination.Point 2 : Don’t turn agile in to a destination. There is no end-game here!

Point 2 : Don’t turn agile into a destination. There is no end-game here!

If you we’re to take on Scrum overnight, you would’ve conned yourself out of all the learning and experience that the creators of Scrum already had the benefit of when they developed it. Your organisation will need to earn that experience too in order for agile to have the best chance of success.

You can’t sell that, so if you want to start becoming agile, create the best environment you can for learning at all levels. Which leads me to my main point…

Point 3 : Don’t try to sell anything. Create an environment that facilitates and provides incentives for learning and improvement.

LEARNING AGILE.

Forget about Scrum, XP, Lean or any other immediately recognisable pattern of work. Focus on creating feedback loops and figure out how you get improvement into your day-to-day activities. Nearly everyone can get on board with that.  

Speak directly to those people who resist change most and ask them how you can help them get their work done more easily. No matter how experienced you are in a given field...

Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.