Going Agile? Without Buy-in, You’re Going Nowhere

After running a series of workshops for a client recently on how to get buy-in to their new Agile ways of working, I found myself reflecting on my own experiences running Agile and in particular, the importance of buy-in to Agile adoption.

Buy-in is the acceptance of, and commitment to, an agreed course of action. In the case of my client, her senior management had accepted new agile ways of working as an important initiative, yet their commitment to seeing it through seemed to be almost the opposite.

  • Their involvement in execution was non-existent.
  • There was no evidence of their own adoption of agile principles.
  • Their requests and behavior reinforced their existing culture and processes rather than enabling the new.

No wonder my client was pulling her hair out, and the rest of her team were left frustrated and confused.

According to the 12th State of Agile Report published by CollabNet VersionOne, my client is not alone. They surveyed 1,492 individuals globally across a broad range of industries with the top 3 challenges of agile adoption they reported all pointing to a lack of buy-in*:

  • 53% said that the existing organizational culture was at odds with agile principles.
  • 46% highlighted that there was organizational resistance to change.
  • 42% indicated that management support and sponsorship were inadequate.

What does this mean? It means trying to adopt new ways of working without buy-in from senior management and the broader organization is incredibly hard! You’re entirely dependent on what other people choose to DO to help you, or not as the case may be, and it’s their commitment to the outcome that matters to what you are trying to do.

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes… but no plans.” – Peter Drucker

Going Somewhere or Going Nowhere?

To influence what people DO to support new ways of working (or any new idea for that matter), most of us focus on engaging and communicating with them. We hire agile coaches for education, change managers for inspiration but rarely do we get to the heart of what real execution needs and that is motivation.

Motivation creates the need or desire in people’s behavior and directs it towards a goal. It’s why some of your stakeholders commit to Agile, and others don’t. They have extrinsic motivators such as recognition, money and power and intrinsic motivators like interest, curiosity, and challenge too. It’s got little to do with Agile itself and everything to do with what motivates them to buy-in:

  • If they think that Agile is a credible way forward, and they feel connected to the outcome it creates, they can see that it has the potential to take them somewhere new, and they are motivated to get onboard with it.
  • If they are suspicious of new ways of working or are uncertain about the outcome it creates, they are likely to be unmotivated, and your attempts to change things will get nowhere.

All of your stakeholders, from senior leaders to colleagues on the frontline will be somewhere on this spectrum of helping you get somewhere or nowhere.

Sabotage

Some of them will doubt whether your new ways of working are required. They will either consciously or subconsciously try and delay progress, and it’s likely that, even if you make it to the point of implementation, they will get in the way of broader adoption and scale too. If you have saboteurs in your world, it’s likely to take too long, cost too much, and ultimately the vision you have and the team involved will end up broken.

Spectate

Other stakeholders will treat your initiative like a football match, they will stand on the sideline yelling advice about what you should do, but they never get in the game. They are interested bystanders that are experts at creating confusion or a negative atmosphere when they disagree, and they detract from the great work you are doing.

Sustain

Most of you will already have allies that are helping you sustain new ways of working despite everyone else not being onboard. These are stakeholders that believe in agile enough to help “get it over the line,” but the onus remains on these faithful few to do the bulk of the legwork. Their buy-in is essential, but it results in heavy lifting that puts demands on them when it’s the energy of others helping that you need.

Support

Progress starts to move as you would like it to when people are motivated and support what you are trying to do. You’re not trying to deliver on your own anymore, and Agile has enough of a fan club for other people to advocate and promote it. Stakeholders have the clarity that they need, they want to get involved, and help is offered up to assist with progress.

Supercharge

The nirvana is surrounding yourself with supercharged stakeholders that are onboard and are helping move agile forward at pace with you. They buy-in to the idea, help drive implementation of it and are motivated by the change ahead! This supercharged team is energized by what you are all trying to do, they are inspired by what you are implementing together, and the momentum you build goes through the roof.

Summary

Buy-in is like the electricity in a light bulb, without enough of it all that happens is that the light flickers and eventually goes out. If you’re “Going Agile” please do the right thing and take time to understand what people are likely to feel, think and do to help you!

You need to understand what will motivate them to get onboard after all, Agile Principle #5 is “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.” so start as you mean to go on.

In my next article, I’ll get into what you can do to understand where you stakeholder buy-in is today. I’ll help you identify your superchargers, saboteurs, and everyone in-between so you know how to motivate them.

If you enjoyed this article and want to hear about my future posts, subscribe to my newsletter for great insights on getting buy-in to Agile and more! I will even throw in a copy of my Setting the Stage for Change white paper for FREE! 

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