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Seven Ways to Sell Agile to Project Stakeholders

Whether you’re making the move to Agile project management in your development group or creating an Agile process for your in-house project management methodology, chances are you’re going to have to sell this change to executives in your organization. And, they’re going to be business people too. This means you have to have a really strong business case, no matter how logical and even obvious switching to an Agile system might be.

Tips for Selling Agile to Stakeholders

Here are some tips for selling Agile project management methodology to stakeholders.

1. Align Agile project management with your organization’s strategy.

In certain cases, it’s possible to cling to legacy or home-rolled project management practices even when development teams have moved into some form of Agile development. Here are a few tips for project managers who face executives clinging to legacy project management practices:

  • Don’t force Agile project management into the organization because chances are you’ll lose.
  • Look for ways to blend Agile and traditional project management because sometimes moves have to happen partially—or they might not happen at all.
  • Speak to the business before you speak to the methodology. Show executives where and how Agile will save the company money or enable them to pursue more business.

2. Raise the level of the Agile conversation within your organization.

While there are Agile evangelists and pundits who encourage project managers and teams to take the hard-sell route, I’m a proponent of raising the level of an Agile conversation more subtly. Here are some tips to get an Agile conversation going, even if in the background.

  • Apply Agile changes to your team and speak to these changes in status reports and during project reviews.
  • Capture metric improvements as part of standard reporting. Another option is to document the improvements as a page on your internal wiki.
  • Attend Agile events in your local area for networking and learning purposes (extra points if you bring your direct manager along).
  • Suggest Agile project management as a topic for internal brown bag lunches or “corporate universities.”

Raising the level of an Agile discussion from the ground up is a subtle way to get Agile project management under the nose of executive stakeholders without seeming too pushy.

3. Propose new metrics for progress and status (with exec input).

Metrics around the success and progress of a software development project are many and varied. One way to sell an Agile system is to offer executives a stake in proposing new metrics and tools for measuring and reporting the development projects under their watch. Here are some tips on proposing new metrics.

  • Look for reporting gaps and problems that include the following:
    • An internal report that’s rarely consulted by project managers or a legacy of a departed executive that needs revision or replacement
    • Frequently asked executive questions about the project team performance
  • Take an Agile approach to create reports and metrics by giving executives the tools and resources to create meaningful metrics iteratively.

4. Find a champion among the executive stakeholders

No fundamental move as strategic as moving to Agile project management is going to happen unless you have a champion among your executive stakeholders. Consider this strategy:

Separate your CFO from the rest of the CxO herd, and focus on turning the CFO into your champion. The CFO is going to ask “When is it going to be done? How much will it cost?” If you can speak to the economics of the move and how it will make the company money or save it money then your CFO can be a ready and powerful ally who can “cut checks.”

5. Focus on project delivery improvement.

“I’m ecstatic about how our development teams are delivering to our customers. We don’t need to make any changes!” said no corporate executive ever. The promise of project delivery improvements is another strong selling point for Agile project management.

In How to Sell Project Management to Senior Executives Who Don’t Want It, Pcubed’s Adam Balfour advises that you find the project manager who’s leading the team that’s stretched to its limits. In the absence of that person (or if they’re too busy to speak with you), look for the salesperson who is promising (or wants to promise) a feature that they can’t deliver. Both of these people have the COO’s attention because they have a problem that requires immediate attention. COO attention = budget.

6. Tell them all the “cool kids” are doing Agile.

Just like in high school, corporate executives can be susceptible to doing what everybody else is doing. Seriously though, no executive in their right mind wants to be left behind if their industry is changing. It’s not good for business. Here are some tips to get the word out that the business influencers are going Agile.

  • Send them links to articles and blog posts that mention your competitors’ move to Agile.
  • Share Request for Proposals (RFPs) mentioning Agile project management requirements.
  • Show industry/business sector adoption of Agile that can change the competitive landscape for your company. For example, the United States federal government adopting Agile has meant a rise in job openings requiring Agile project management expertise.
  • Surface customer inquiries about your organization’s project management methodology related to how “Agile you are” or how you support transparency and collaboration in your development cycle.

Making a change to meet customer requirements is hard for an executive to deny.

7. Choose a pilot Agile project.

If you’re facing pushback from an executive stakeholder, it might be time to double down and get their consent for a pilot project where you can apply Agile project management practices.

Here are some tips for choosing an Agile pilot project.

  • Pick a small project.
  • Stack the team with people who thrive on ambiguity and change.
  • Give your stakeholders transparency into the process by inviting them to sit in on scrums or letting them monitor work progress.

Bringing It All Together to Close the Agile Deal

Selling an Agile project management process to executive stakeholders doesn’t require the personality of a salesperson. What it does require is that you can speak in definitive terms and dollars and cents about how Agile project management will improve the bottom line for the company. The rest of the benefits will fall into place from there. 

Agile isn’t just for development and technical teams anymore. Organizations are starting to pick up on the fact that Agile principles benefit all types of businesses and help them achieve their goals faster and more effectively. To see how Agile might work for your team download our eBook, Agile for Everyone.


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