3 Reasons Your Management Doesn’t like Agile Development and 3 Tips to Fix It

If you are planning to adopt Agile Development practices, chances are, you will encounter resistance from a variety of sources within your organization. This should be expected, since we as human beings generally don’t like change, because change disrupts equilibrium and introduces risk to our sense of security and safety. As you probably already know, in order for meaningful change to occur, buy-in from senior management is absolutely critical, since our leadership usually sets the tone for performance expectations as well as the generally accepted norms that we often refer to as “culture”.Agile Development

If you agree with me so far, it should not come as a surprise that your management, or some members within the leadership staff, will dislike Agile Development for many reasons. Here are a few that you will likely encounter, as well as a few tips on how you may want to address them.

Reason #1 – Too much perceived “freedom”

There’s a common perception that if the engineers are going to do “Agile”, they are going to go crazy and do whatever they want without rhyme or reason. While there a small chance that this could happen, effective application of Agile development practices will provide the necessary guardrails that encourages autonomy within the discipline that many people assume does not exist in Agile practices.

Tip to address – If your leadership is new to Agile, they will need to see proof that it works. Invite them to your planning and review sessions to demonstrate progress and try to get a small win early to build confidence. Show them how work is prioritized and executed, which should reduce some of the fear associated with excessive freedom and potential chaos.

Reason #2 – Difficult to assess progress; “where’s my status report?”

Traditional management approach is accustomed to the Red/Yellow/Green (or Red/Amber/Green) status reports that are commonly used to communicate project health in terms of cost, schedule, scope, etc. Agile Development does not automatically provide this type of view without a bit of additional effort. Since communicating progress is critical in building trust and confidence in the process, management will need to see something on a regular basis to feel comfortable with the new way of working.

Tip to address – You may consider sharing the burndown chart or other reports that your Agile management tool provides without additional work. However, be mindful about doing this, since your leadership may not understand how to make sense of these reports; you will need to walk them through this and provide a narrative on how things are going. Another option you have is to create a simple schedule that represents the team’s plan over the next several weeks/months.

Reason #3 – Too much transparency

Seasoned agilists may be surprised to hear this, but not everyone cares for “transparency”; this is because being transparent means that we must have the courage to accept that things aren’t going as planned, or we are not as successful as we had hoped to be, which can be difficult on our egos. Management may not like hearing all the problems that the Agile approach will likely reveal, especially early in the project. Identifying issues early is good for the product, but it may not be well-received by management if they are not accustomed to dealing with issues.

Tip to address – This may sound odd, but you may need to use this opportunity to educate and inform the leadership by helping them understand that discovering issues early and often is a good thing in the grand scheme. Remind them of past projects where problems were revealed at the 11th hour, which led to teams having to work long days and weekends to meet a client commitment. Reflect back on whether that is a sustainable approach. If your leadership team can connect with that painful experience, they may be more receptive to seeing the benefits of early detection of issues.

To sum up, management is your key ally in any major change initiative. You must convince them and get them on your side if you wish to do work in a new way. Change is hard but management support can provide the psychological safety that your need must have in order to take a risk and do things differently. Be patient, be informative, and as always, seek help where needed!

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Eugene Lai
Eugene Lai