Perhaps the Agile movement doomed itself to resistance, when the “Agile Manifesto” was published in 2001. It raised significant questions about elements of classic Waterfall project management, like scope statements, carefully-designed contracts, and detailed documentation.
Some senior managers shy away from Agile and Scrum because they see them through a different lens than do developers, says Bruce McGraw, COO of Cognitive Technologies. As he described in his “Fear No Project” blog, to a C-level manager, the words “self directed” translates as “undisciplined.” That’s not something executives want on their watch.
So introducing Agile and Scrum may require a bit of salesmanship, and salesmanship means overcoming objections. What are some of those objections? Here are a few:
- Project management has worked well enough. In countering this, Agile Practice Lead Kevin Thompson of cPrime advises connecting the dots for management; yes, some methodologies are new, but many of the differences between classic PM and Agile are just semantics, for example: Schedule = Sprint (or Release); Scope = Sprint Backlog; Work Breakdown Structure = Task Breakdown; Productivity = Velocity; Estimate to Complete = Burndown Chart.
- Agile is hostile toward corporate culture. Software engineer Jim Highsmith, one of the Agile Manifesto’s 17 authors, once described Agile as“[A] developer community freed from the baggage of Dilbertesque corporations.” He went on to say “Agile approaches scare corporate bureaucrats…because they run out of places to hide.” But the Manifesto was purposely written in a free-wheel no-one’s-watching environment, aimed at achieving the best results. Its image is hardly so cavalier now, else Adobe, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Qualcomm (among others) would have steered clear of it.
- PMI doesn’t take it seriously, why should I? It may have looked that way. After all, the Manifesto was written in 2001, and PMI only rolled out its Agile certification in 2011. However slow it was to “turn the boat,” PMI took Agile seriously enough to survey 600 member organizations and form a steering committee to architect the Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) designation in 2008; to take three years to get it right; and to hold its first Agile-dedicated track at the 2010 PMI Global Congress.
- There are too many meetings (or “ceremonies”), when conventional wisdom is that most meetings are pointless. Most meetings are—at least, most go on too long. But management needs to understand the timeboxed, 15-minute scope of those Agile meetings. Also that the purpose of those meetings is accountability and brainstorming to maintain the velocity; hence the three questions “What have you done since yesterday?” “What will you do today?” “What are the stumbling blocks?” (and subsequently, “Who can help overcome them?”)
- Because “self direction” sounds like “matrix management” which never worked. Management must be made to understand that a “self directed team” operates in the confines of a project; that not only does the customer, and ScrumMaster hold the team accountable, but its members hold themselves and one another accountable. In short, someone is in charge.
- If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. True—sort of. But as Kevin Thompson of cPrime describes, Agile is born of software development, and software engineering is just plain different. “Modest increments of functionality can provide significant new value to customers [whose] needs can change rapidly.” The definition of success is not to meet some far-off deadline, but to deliver desired features ASAP, and as they evolve. “Responsiveness trumps scope as the most significant element of success.” So yes—the scope is flexible. But the fixed timeline reins it in.
Senior management reluctance to incorporate Agile tools and techniques can be overcome. There are enough Agile success stories today to make a compelling case for including the Agile way in the project management portfolio of the firm.
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