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Naresh Jain's Random Thoughts on Software Development and Adventure Sports
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What does “Executive Commitment” REALLY mean?

On the Agile Alliance LinkedIn group, Eugene Yamnitsky posted the following question:

One of the key Agile transformation success factors is Executive Commitment. Every book and article I’ve read mention this, but there are no good explanation on what it really means.

Great questions!

In my experience, Executive Commitment is very deep and crucial. It’s certainly not as easy as flipping a switch and expecting magic to happen.

What  does this really means?

  • First and foremost they need to understand that, for any change program or transformation, its the people and the environment they operate in which makes the difference. Not the new process itself. What Agile tries to do is change people’s behavior and the environment they work in.
  • They need to take time to actually understand what is Agile and what it is not. Essentially so that they have the right expectations set. So that they understand the impact of what they are getting into. This should involve talking to practitioners about their experience. Reading at least few experience reports and so on.
  • Involving their teams to understand their issues and aspirations. The worst thing the executives can do is decide “Agile is THE way to go” in a closed room meeting and force it down people’s throat.
  • Once there is a general awareness about Agile in the organization, ask any one team to volunteer to be the pilot project. Work closely with that team to set realistic plans.
  • Once the pilot project is kicked off and folks on that team & supporting teams are sold on the concept, they need to step back & stand behind their teams (support them) and trust them to do their best.
    Send a clear message across the organization that this is important and we really care about this stuff. (There is a big difference between pushing in down people’s throat and doing it collaboratively with their buy-in)
  • The Executives need to be open to failures and also need to communicate that clearly to teams saying its OK to fail. We are trying something new, which is a huge paradigm shift and there is certainly risk involved in it. So its OK to fail.
  • Also sometimes I find that since the expectation setting is not right, teams are always trying to change their way of working in a hurry, under a high pressure. Its very unlikely that I would do my best under such situations. Give your teams the space and time they need. Like anything new, there will always be a learning curve.
  • It usually very helpful to have someone in the organization play an evangelist role. Someone with real first hand experience with Agile. The executives need to invest in the right things.
  • The other very important thing that the executives can influence is the organization culture. Encouraging honest and open communication. Not by just doing lip service, but by actually leading by example.
  • Like with any change program, everyone (esp. the executives) are always interested to know as soon as possible if the new process is working on not. Is it helping on not? Sometimes people try to put in tracking/measuring mechanisms which are inherently broken. As we all know, you’ll get what you measure. So the metrics you use will influence to a large extend how people will behave. This one single things can screw up the whole adoption process.

I can go on, but I guess this gives you the gist and seriousness of the kind of commitment required.

To conclude, I think it all revolves around

  • communication,
  • expectation setting,
  • collaboration,
  • leading by example,
  • showing that they care and providing the required support (time, money, effort)
  • being open to take the risk of potential failures.

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