How does an Agile coach gain buy in for a pilot project from leaders within the organization?
I’m going to flip this question on you. Why are we looking toward the agile coach to get buy in?
As an agile coach, you are there to help people improve. To help the organization adopt agile and tap into all the benefits of an agile product development environment.
You are constantly and relentlessly seeking opportunities for the team to experiment, try things and discover better ways of achieving sprint goals and organizational objectives.
Yes, a pilot is a great example of that. It allows the team to experiment with a different way of building a product or solving a problem. It also allows the team to introduce new processes, tools and frameworks to discover what best serves both the team and the organization.
It allows the organization to do that without whole scale change. It allows the organization to simply run an experiment before investing a great deal of time, money and effort into something new.
It sounds like a great place for an Agile coach to be, and it is, but why are we asking them to pitch this concept and acquire money, resources and permission to run the experiment?
It isn’t their area of expertise nor is it in their wheelhouse?
A pilot or product is not an Agile coach’s baby. They are there to help other people develop a great product. They are there to help other people create an environment where the team can excel. They don’t own the product, the team, or any department within the organization.
In my opinion, the person pitching for a pilot should be the person who owns that department or product. It needs to be someone with the commercial background and deeply vested interest that approaches senior leadership teams and pitches the benefits of a pilot.
In rare cases, the agile coach may well be the most senior manager in the environment, in which case, great, they should be the one to pitch for that pilot, but they need to present themselves as the head of that department and team rather than an Agile coach.
So, instead of asking how an Agile coach can pitch a pilot, what I would recommend is that we ask the question of how an Agile coach might support the people who own the product and department in their pitch for a pilot.
How can the Agile coach best prepare them for that pitch and help them make clear why the pilot will be a benefit to the organization and how it will enable the team to contribute more effectively to organizational goals and business objectives.
The best way an Agile coach can help the team secure a pilot is by providing data.
When I think of pilots, I think of something which is pretty late in the process. We started small, with a small group of people, and pioneered a new way of working that brought out the best in the team.
We had a hypothesis and ran a very small, lightweight experiment to see if that would work.
That initial adoption of scrum or agile frameworks would have produced data. It would have produced evidence that what we believed to be true was in fact true, and the data supported a greater investment and ever-increasing experimentation within the environment.
Those initial pioneering days have led us to develop more hypotheses and design the experiments that would prove or disprove those hypotheses, so you will have data that you can present to leadership teams that supports your theory that a pilot will deliver the outcome you hope it will.
You will also have a proven track record of experimentation and evidence that you have a scientific method of collecting, analysing and evaluating data to support business decisions.
Our role as an agile coach in supporting the person or people who are interested in pitching the pilot is to provide the evidence and data that helps build the story which proves that a pilot is a great idea.
Our role is to help them support their line of reasoning with stories, data and evidence that will help leadership teams understand the need for a pilot in the context of how it helps the team create a better product or feature, and how that translates into achieving broader business goals and objectives.
This process may take days, weeks or even months. In some cases, it may even take years.
In large organizations, a lot of justification is required for leadership teams to support change or invest in a different style of working. Often, presenting the evidence of a series of small experiments and leading up to how a larger experiment will serve product development will help win the case.
Our role as an agile coach is not about stepping into the limelight and actively pitching opportunities. We work behind the scenes. We invite people to consider things and we make marginal gains through constant experimentation, inspection and adaptation.
That is where our strength lies, not in bold commitments to leadership teams that we can’t prove.
3 Different Hypotheses
When it comes to products, an agile coach thinks in terms of 3 different hypotheses.
- Do people have this problem?
- Do they want this product?
- Do we have real data, not opinions, telling us that this problem exists in our marketplace?
- Can we solve that problem?
- Do we have the skills and capabilities to solve that problem?
- Do we have the skills and capabilities to build that product?
- If we don’t, can we acquire those skills within a reasonable time frame for a reasonable price?
- Should we do it?
- Can we solve that problem with the people and materials we have got for a price that makes sense?
- Will the organization make a profit by investing in this work or product?
- Is this the wisest investment of our money, time and people?
If you can answer these questions honestly and transparently, you can help the business owner make a decision about a pilot. If the pilot proves the hypothesis that the product is desirable, feasible and viable, you should get a green light.
If it doesn’t answer those questions effectively, you are unlikely to win the sponsorship of your pilot.
So, in closing, an agile coach is not there to go and win sponsorship for a pilot. They are there to help the person or people who are interested in the pilot win the sponsorship based on data, evidence and very strong hypotheses development.
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