Agile Challenges: How Critical is Management Support and Sponsorship
In a previous blog post, we covered the top 10 challenges organizations face when adopting Agile. In this article, we’ll dive deep into one of these challenges: “Inadequate management support and sponsorship.” We will explore why organizations face this challenge and what can be done to address it.
Lack of management support is one of the most widespread and yet hard-to-uncover challenges. Agile transformation requires an enterprise-wide shift in mindset and culture and this requires buy-in from all levels of the organization, otherwise, it can cause the entire effort to lose alignment.
With Agile transformations, middle management is usually caught, well, in the middle. While expected to embrace the significant amount of change they will be experiencing in their own roles and responsibilities, they are also expected to be the torchbearers and lead their teams through the transformation.
Traditional management in a non-Agile culture operates largely in a command-and-control mode. It’s how they make decisions, forecast, and get work done. Agile principles strive to decentralize some of that control in favor of building self-organized and autonomous teams. This factor directly threatens management’s perception of control and can make them feel a loss of power. The root of this problem can sometimes trace back to a poorly executed change management strategy, or lack thereof. Agile is not just a small incremental change in the way organizations plan and deliver, but a fundamentally different way altogether that requires careful planning and execution to accomplish.
Below are some of the indicators that show management is not fully aligned and supportive:
- Teams do not get enough support from management when delivery challenges manifest
- Management puts a greater emphasis on following the practices and mechanics than the mindset
- There is a lack of psychological safety in the organization
- Management overvalues Agile metrics and dashboards, leading to an increase in Agile antipatterns
- Agile coaches struggle to maintain a coach and influence teams
- Key Agile tenets get ignored in favor of the sponsor’s wishes, e.g., artificial deadlines
To prevent this issue from becoming a challenge in the first place, it is important to acknowledge and plan for it while developing the transformation strategy. Here are a few ways to address this challenge:
- Address the “why”. Organizations can prevent resistance from happening by making sure management understands the “why” behind the change. Leadership needs to invest in and sponsor education and awareness campaigns to make sure people managers understand and align with the spirit of agile and are able to effectively articulate the value expected from the transformation.
- Engage and recruit management as advocates of change: Change is hard, and advocating change requires skill. If we want our management to be those advocates, it is necessary to ensure they have the right knowledge and training to play their part. Key members of management should be strategically identified and trained for advocacy, early in the transformation.
- Answer “What’s in it for me?”. While it might be well understood that Agile helps organizations deliver value early and often, it is human nature to seek personal benefit. Ensure they get a clear understanding of their future, feel secure from a career and work-life standpoint, and are able to see the benefits they stand to receive if the transformation goes well.
- Let managers know that you have their back. Agile transformations are always full of ups and downs. And the ‘downs’ ideally should be learning opportunities. However, if management is held to their old expectations and they feel they will be penalized for failures as a result of the new delivery approach, they will be less inclined to support the transformation because of potential negative impacts. Leadership needs to understand and acknowledge how ‘fail fast’ manifests itself when using Agile, and ensure management understands that they won’t be penalized when failures do occur.
- Create a ‘Growth Roadmap’. Just like ‘what’s in it for me,’ in the short term, it is important to address long-term personal benefits. As part of change management, ensure there is a clear understanding of how people will advance in their new roles in the next 3-5-8 years, what resources they will have to gain, new knowledge and credentials to consider, and which career paths they can pursue. Leadership should explain to middle-management how to be successful in an Agile culture, and ensure they recognize and reward managers for the new behaviors they want to see in them.
There is a lot that can be discussed about this challenge, and I would love to hear more from you. Have you faced similar challenges? What did you do to address them? At CC Pace, we love to engage with the community and provide value wherever possible. Reach out, we’d love to help.