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Why have we ignored the executives?

Just how do organizations adopt agile in their development process? And why?

I have seen both top-down and bottom-up adoptions, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. But in either scenario, most of the energy goes into making sure the technical folks (developers, analysts, testers, operations, etc.), yet we tend to pay little or no attention to the leaders of the organization, especially at the executive level. Yet these are the very people who can encourage and embrace the agile adoption, or reject it. I see a gap here, don’t you?

After a lot of thought, and working with executives from a number of different organizations, I realized that there are, in fact, two problems that executives need help with:

  1. Understanding the basic framework of the agile approach, and taking actions to support agile adoption
  2. (After using agile for a while) Spreading agile approaches, practices, and underlying philosophies into the rest of the organization.

In short-hand, I refer to this as “doing agile” and “being agile”.

We now have two new workshops aimed at the executives in agile organizations to bridge these gaps:

  1. Agile Adoption for Executives: This workshop covers the basics that these leaders need to understand, from the key elements of agile to more complex matters such as off-shore teams, and working together across organizational boundaries. This workshop allows executives to understand the way an agile organization needs to work together, and helps them understand how their work will change as agile becomes more widespread in their organization.
  2. Leadership in the Agile Enterprise: This workshop has been developed in concert with Jim Highsmith, one of the founders of the agile movement and signatory to the Agile Manifesto. It is geared towards executives in organizations that have been using an agile approach for a while – typically at least a year – and who now want to spread this approach into other parts of the organization. It really focuses on behaviors, especially adaptive leadership behaviors. For example, is your recruiting organization seeking people who can work across disciplines (analysis, development, testing), or does it continue to seek the most specialized developers available? Are they hiring for skills only, or teamwork? And how do you decide on the software in your portfolio? Do you continue with big design up-front, or have you started to develop a minimum viable product, release it to see how it is accepted, then continue with incremental releases?

In my opinion, we have been ignoring the executive level in the agile organization for way too long, yet we complain about their inherent lack of knowledge. These workshops aim to bridge this gap, and provide your organization with a much stronger, more supportive framework to allow you to get the most out of your agile development process.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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