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.
Does your Agile Transformation feel like it is stuck in mud? Maybe it is facing one of the many challenges organizations must navigate as part of their transformation.
According to the 15th State of Agile Report the top 10 Agile Challenges (Digital ai, 2021) are:
The impact of each of these can be detrimental to any Agile Transformation. The report suggests that some organizations face many of these challenges at once. The survey notes that these results have been unchanged over several years. As we look across these top 10, we find most of them relate to the organization’s cultural aspects which means that trying to improve a team’s specific use of an Agile method like Scrum, is less important than trying to improve the overall Agile Culture of the organization.
For a different view into why Agile transformations are challenged, we find the article, How to mess up your agile transformation in seven easy (mis)steps (Handscomb et al., 2018) by a McKinsey team as yet another way to look at the challenges organizations face. The seven missteps are:
- Not having alignment on the aspiration and value of an agile transformation
- Not treating agile as a strategic priority that goes beyond pilots
- Not putting culture first over everything else
- Not investing in the talents of your people
- Not thinking through the pace and strategy for scaling up beyond pilots
- Not having a stable backbone to support agile
- Not infusing experimentation and iteration into the DNA of the organization
If your organization is facing any of these challenges, or you’ve made any of the “missteps” identified by the McKinsey team, your Agile adoption may be at a stall. If you’re experiencing multiple challenges, it may be time to get some help.
When things aren’t going well with your transformation the impacts are felt at the team and organization levels. Next, we’ll look at some of these impacts.
- Team members feel frustrated and demotivated about working in an Agile environment when they aren’t supported through the transition by managers, each other, and the culture of the organization.
- Team members are unable to deliver quality increments of work due to a lack of consistent processes and tools.
- Team deliveries are hindered by defects.
- Team members struggle to learn and implement new Agile methods, or what they learn does not stick.
- Team members don’t go beyond process and learn delivery practices to improve quality, like TDD, or DevOps.
- Team members don’t work cross-functionally and instead keep silos of expertise.
- Team members struggle to coordinate across teams to remove dependencies.
- Team members burn out due to working at an unsustainable pace.
- Team member turnover is high.
- Stakeholders don’t see the value in their participation with the Team members doing the work, hindering the team’s ability to get real-time feedback and continuously improve.
- Management fails to let the team self-organize taking away from team ownership and accountability for the work. Or even worse, they micro-manage the team, their backlog, or even how they do the work
- Teams find it difficult to release rapidly hampering innovation and increasing time to market.
- Team members aren’t engaged in learning new ways of working.
In addition to the team impacts, there are several organizational impacts that can occur.
Resolving the challenges
In looking at the data, it is imperative that organizations address these challenges head-on. If you’re seeing any of the impacts listed above, you may wonder what to do to alleviate them. One of the biggest mistakes is not incorporating change management as part of an Agile Transformation. Leadership needs to help everyone in the organization understand the new culture underlying how they all work together. It requires leaders and doers alike to learn about Agile values and behaviors. Organizations must invest in training and education at all levels so that learning becomes part of the culture. How do we expect people to become Agile if we don’t teach them what Agile really is?
“What Are the Greatest Contributors to Success When Integrating Change Management and Agile?” According to Tim Creasey (Creasey, n.d.), they are:
- Early engagement of a change manager
- Consistent communication
- Senior leader engagement
- Early wins
Regardless of the Agile Methods you are trying to implement, an organization must start with changing its organizational culture, and the best way to do this is to start with change management. All the efforts of teaching and coaching will fail without the culture change to support the new Agile ways of working. Finally, engage the entire organization, not just IT, in the adoption of Agile practices and behaviors. While a pilot team will help test out a specific Agile method, their work with other members of the organization requires everyone to understand what it means to be Agile. Agile is for everyone, not just IT. A comprehensive change management program will help ensure the entire organization becomes focused on becoming Agile.
Watch for future blogs where we delve into these challenges and what CC Pace can do to help you solve them.