Winning Agile friends in your organization

Winning Agile Friends – illustration of team working on a kanban board

As an Agile champion, I have often found myself trying to spread the word about Agile and convincing others of its benefits. However, I have come to realize that simply throwing around Agile terms and buzzwords may not always be effective in making my case. The keys to successfully promoting Agile are to understand your audience, speak their language, and suggest small incremental changes when you begin.

1. Understand your audience

An important aspect of effectively promoting Agile is to understand what is important to your audience and what they are thinking about. Understanding your audience means taking the time to learn about who they are, what their roles are, and what their priorities are. This can help you tailor your message and show them how Agile can help to address their specific challenges and needs.

By answering these five questions, you can tailor your message to better resonate with your audience and make a stronger case for Agile ways of working.

  1. Who is the audience? Understanding the demographics and roles of your audience can help you to understand their needs, challenges, and priorities. For example, if your audience is a group of developers, they may be more interested in how Agile can improve their efficiency and productivity, while a group of managers may be more interested in how Agile can help to improve the bottom line and increase ROI.
  2. What words resonate most with them? Knowing the words and terminology that your audience is familiar with and that resonate most with them can help you to communicate effectively. For example, if your audience is familiar with the term “Agile” and understands its meaning, you can use it freely in your presentation. On the other hand, if your audience is not familiar with the term, you can use different words or explanations to explain the concept of Agile.
  3. What are their goals? Understanding the goals and objectives of your audience can help you to align your message with their priorities. For example, if your audience has a goal to improve customer satisfaction, you can explain how Agile can help to achieve that goal by focusing on customer collaboration and responding to change.
  4. What are some real-world examples you can leverage (bonus if it is your own organization)? Using real-world examples and analogies can help your audience understand complex concepts and ideas. This can make your message more relatable and easier to understand.
  5. What do they already know about Agility? By asking about their prior knowledge, you can gauge their understanding and tailor your message accordingly. This can establish a common ground and help you build on their existing knowledge while simultaneously including the information most important to them.

By understanding your audience, using relatable language, and aligning your message with their priorities, you can make a stronger case for Agile ways of working and increase the chances of it being adopted in your organization.

2. Speak their language

One of the biggest challenges in promoting Agile is that it often comes with a whole new set of terms and jargon that can be confusing and overwhelming for those who are not familiar with it. For example, when talking about Scrum, a commonly used Agile framework, the terms “Scrum Master,” “Product Owner,” and “Sprint” may be used. These terms may be familiar to those who are well-versed in Agile, but they may not mean much to others. There can also be misconceptions or misunderstandings of what they mean. Instead, trying using words and phrases that are more familiar and will resonate with them.

Here are common business terms and phrases you can use instead:

  • continuous learning and improvement in place of retrospective
  • iteration in place of sprint or quarterly planning
  • inspect & adapt in place of retrospective
  • real-time status or predictability in place of burndown chart
  • capacity planning instead of velocity
  • customer-centric instead of product owner
  • early-and-often feedback instead of sprint review or user acceptance testing
  • quarterly business review instead of portfolio Kanban
  • weighted prioritization instead of weighted shortest job first or cost of delay
  • value delivery instead of product increment
  • uncertainty and complexity instead of story points
  • steering committee instead of Lean Agile center of excellence
  • professional communities or learning networks instead of communities of practice

By using language and terms your audience is familiar with, you can improve communication and make it easier for them to understand the concepts and benefits of Agile. It also shows that you have taken the time to understand their perspective and are speaking their language. This can help build trust and credibility which can help the chances of your message being heard and acted upon.

3. Suggest small incremental changes

Understanding the organizational appetite for change is probably just as important as speaking their language. I’ve worked with some clients who are all in and ready to turn everything upside down, but most organizations I have worked with prefer to start small. This may be because there is a preference towards proof of concept, change fatigue in the organization, or hesitancy to fully commit.

Suggesting small, incremental changes can help to ease the transition and allow you to build momentum. By starting small, you can help your audience to slowly adopt Agile ways of working and move towards a more Agile culture. As you are able to demonstrate success with these small changes, others will start to take notice and help drive the change you are looking for.

Here are five small changes that you can recommend to your audience to move them toward Agile adoption:

  1. Introduce a 15-minute daily team huddle: One of the key common practices of Agile is regular communication and collaboration among team members. Introducing a daily stand-up meeting, also known as a Scrum meeting, can help to improve communication and alignment among team members.
  2. Prioritize customer feedback: Encourage your team to gather and incorporate customer feedback into their work. This can help to ensure that the team is delivering value that aligns with the needs of the customer and can improve customer satisfaction.
  3. Experiment with an iterative approach: Encourage the team to try a more iterative approach to their work. This can be done by breaking down larger projects into smaller chunks and delivering working software in short sprints. This approach allows teams to respond to changes and new ideas quickly and can help to improve customer satisfaction.
  4. Encourage continuous learning and improvement: Encourage team members to reflect on their work and identify opportunities for improvement. This can be done through regular retrospectives or other continuous improvement practices.
  5. Emphasize customer value: Encourage team members to think about the customer value and how the work they are doing aligns with the needs of the customer. This can help to ensure that goals are relevant and meaningful and that they align with the needs of the customers or stakeholders.

Remember, trying to change an existing culture or bring in new ways of working is not always easy. You can make it easier though by relating to and understanding your audience, speaking their language, and starting with small incremental changes.

This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They may not represent the opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.

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Danielle Paula

Danielle Paula

Danielle Paula is a Principle Agilist with Isos Technologies. Danielle's approach to Agile focuses on solving problems in a way that best serves the customer regardless of the Agile framework. Her experience is specialized in getting enterprises “unstuck” in their Agile transformation initiatives and growth mindsets. She lives in West Virginia with her husband, 2 kids, and a dog and likes to spend her time in nature.

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