An Executives Playbook for a Successful Agile Adoption

What is role and responsibility of an executive in moving an organization towards greater agility?

Approach a project asking ‘Why not Agile?‘ instead of ‘Why Agile?

 – Executive at South Florida Company

A key role that an executive can play in driving an organization towards greater agility is to become the sponsor of the Agile initiative.

That means:

  • Highlight the importance of Agile to all employees throughout the organization.  It will go a long way towards buy-in.
  • Maintain the sponsor role throughout the Agile transformation and beyond.

But before that can happen, the are some important mindset shifts that need to happen to help the executive understand what an Agile adoption will mean for them and be convinced that it is the right fit for their organization.

Here are some strategic mindset shifts the executive needs to make:

Understand and speak the lingo

  • Understand the values and principles behind Agile and check if you really believe in them or not.
  • Know and speak the Agile language.

Shift your focus to Value

  • Move away from the iron triangle (schedule, cost and scope) – move towards a framework based on value.
  • Prioritize ideas based on cost of delay.
  • Decompose ideas into increments that can be validated with fast feedback loops (adopt a lean start-up mentality).

Examine the entire pipeline

  • Measure and adapt the flow of your end-to-end concept to cash pipeline.
  • Focus beyond development – identify parts of the pipeline where ideas wait too long.
  • Consider value stream mapping to have a better understanding of waiting states and areas of no or low value.

Think of a flattened organization structure

  • Adapt from hierarchical organization to a self-organizing organization.
  • Engaged employees (more ownership and decision making of their work) apply more brainpower and passion to their work.

Collaboration vs. Competition

  • Find ways to collaborate and work together with your customers to create the right products.
  • Forge partnerships to strengthen your offerings.

Once the executive has made the mindset shifts and wants to take on the role of an Agile Sponsor, here are some key things he / she can do to be an effective promoter of Agility.

Examine your own behavior

  • Align your own behaviors with the Agile mindset – with a focus on delivering customer value.
  • Speak the language of Agile and the strategic shift you are trying to achieve.

It is a journey – treat it as such

  • Agile adoption takes time – build an adaptable roadmap.
  • Start with a pilot project with a small, local team of Agile champions and an experienced Agile consultant.

Build a learning culture

  • Consider establishing an education vision on how to educate your organization.
  • Combine education with experiments and experience.

Provide adequate funding

  • Fund your Agile initiative – education, coaches and tools

Consider the staff

  • Check that your staff are Agile minded and aligned with the culture shift.
  • Make the necessary changes to staff members that cannot switch away form the command and control mindset.
  • Hire problem solvers.

Understand Agile metrics and measures of success

  • Understand the lagging to leading metric path, sprint burn-downs, release burn-ups, value capture, release frequency, Agile Mindset, Values and Principles (MVP) Advisor etc. to ensure organization is moving in the right direction.
  • Learn how you can use metrics to measure and track progress.

Employee compensation

  • Adapt employee compensation model toward Agile behaviors and away from command and control attributes.
  • Recognize the behavior you want to change
  • Evaluate the reward system and adapt it to behaviors needed for Agile

Stay in the loop

  • Attend sprint reviews for top products to get a genuine sense of progress and see actual working functionality of your products.

Support Agile publicly

  • Establish Agile communication plan – executed over time to keep employees aware of the progress and accomplishments of deployment.
  • Provide “air cover” to the Agile deployment team and the coaches and champions.
  • Mitigate the risks that could prevent a move to Agile

Reference: Based on article by Mario Moreira –, August 2014