Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Book Writing

For the past few months I have been working for a large and very well known ".com" to help them "go Agile".

The folks on the ground - doing the actual project work - were really enthusiastic, and took to many of the practices quickly.

Unfortunately, my attempts to get senior management "buy in" were a dismal failure. In short, they said they wanted to "go Agile" to make development faster and more predictable, but without altering their own measurements and processes.

After three months of banging my head against the wall, I left the company. Senior management was surprised - whereas the actual teams were not.

Here, then, was my major revelation: Without senior management buy-in you are never going to be fully effective with the introduction of Agile practices. Sure, you can work "under the radar" with some of the practices (e.g. much of XP), but to really get the benefits you need commitment from the very top.

How do we get that commitment? Well, this is what I am figuring out now. One problem I have seen (and not just at the famous ".com") is that you can talk about the benefits of Agile approaches until you are blue in the face, but if it conflicts with the senior management's world view you aren't going to get their commitment. Top management doesn't care about unit tests, or sprints, or product backlog, but about results, about predictability, about beating the competition and grabbing market-share.

The closest I have seen to expressing things this way is Scrum - it cuts down much of the geek-speak and focuses on business benefits. However, it still assumes you already have the buy in you need. Lean Software Development is pretty good too in focusing on the benefits rather than the techniques, but the only response I got to that was "there is no waste in our organization!". There is also David Anderson's excellent book on Agile Management, but that is more about how to apply modern management theories to software development, rather than how to convince senior management to make a culture shift.

My aim is to push these things even further: To understand how geeks like me can be persuasive at the top levels in big firms. At the ripe old age of 43 I have now quit my job and am completely focused on understanding how big bosses think. What are their fears and desires? What compels them to make huge shifts in their world-view and and commit to major corporate change.

In short, I am re-thinking the whole Agile perspective in terms that have meaning to senior executives. My mission is to unravel how to get executive buy in.

Hopefully, this will be interesting to others too. I will be writing up my progress in uncovering this stuff on this blog, and also on my website:

Feedback would be very welcome. In fact, without feedback, I fear my investigations will drift off into theory. Your feedback will keep me grounded in reality - keeping my head out of the clouds and my feet firmly on the ground.

Ultimately, I would like to produce a book: firstly because I am deeply passionate about this topic, and secondly because I feel this is an area where there hasn't been much written so far (let me know if I am wrong!). That, however, is secondary to uncovering and sharing the knowledge itself.

This is how to contact me: anthony [at]