Opening Remarks: This article is the synthesis of our experience as Agile coaches and data gathered from Agile practitioners in our network. We do not have the presumption to cover every aspect of Agile complexity. We are gladfully welcoming feedback to start a conversation on any aspects that might spark your interest. 

Introduction on hands-on guide to avoid pitfalls in executing an Agile project
Pitfall #1: Losing faith in the team
Pitfall #2: Confusing agile and disorganization
 

Pitfall #3: Hiding yourself in the basement 

Undertaking an Agile transformation has a major impact on the entire organization. It requires a strong sponsorship for teams to be fully engaged and committed. Otherwise, people might be reluctant to change and reject the Agile way of working.  

In the 14th annual “State of Agile” report (2019), in the top 5 challenges faced in Agile transformations you can find: 

  • The lack of sufficient leadership participation for 46% of the survey participants 

  • The inadequate management support and sponsorship for 43% of them  

There is no doubt management sponsorship is crucial for the success of your transformation program. Sponsors have a key role in removing impediments throughout the project as they embody the change you are trying to instigate. Shifting to an Agile organization represents a major cultural change to be embodied by managers and to be passed on to the rest of the teams. 

To help onboard sponsors on your projects you can follow the following 4-step framework

 

  1. Mobilize your sponsors from the beginning of your project  

To prevent the lack of sponsorship, start by identifying the right sponsors within the top and middle management of the organization. To make sure you identify the right people and do not forget anyone worth including as a sponsor, you can do a stakeholder mapping exercise. During an agile coaching project, it has enabled us to see that key sponsors had been left out at the beginning of the project. Once they are correctly identified, you want to make sure they are onboarded right away. To do so, you can plan a pitch session where you present them the project, and the benefits of Agile they will care about, meaning that you must find what drives them in their work to better spot their interest in Agile. If your sponsor is the CFO, you could maybe emphasize on the financial gains.  

  1. Align sponsors from the beginning 

You must avoid rushing into the roll-out of your project. Before involving all team members, take the time to align with your sponsors on the Agile process, the governance, and their participation. An effective sponsor is a sponsor who understands your approach and who agrees with it from the start. It is then very important to maintain this alignment during the whole project life. A best practice we have learned in the field is to share firsthand the benefits of Agile for the project. For instance, before implementing Agile, one of the projects we supported was about to place an order for the development of a complete software in a year for 500k€. Using Agile, we have shown sponsors that they only needed first do deliver a minimum viable product. By doing so, they reduced the development scope and the overall bill from 500k€ to 200k€!  

  1. Train your sponsors on Agile methodology 

As stated before, sponsors are the face of the Agile methodology for the project team and they will later be responsible for its right application. You want to ensure they all understand what going Agile means and implies, and that you will not fall into a hybrid system, mixing traditional and Agile management. Once sponsors are convinced of the benefits this method brings, they need to have a deeper understanding of the ins and outs. For example, managers will eventually seek for reporting to check the project progress. It is easy for them to cling on their old habits and look for the progress of tasks. But if you have previously trained them, they will understand that Agile reporting means reporting on delivered added value. Having well trained sponsors will lead to the perpetuation of your Agile transformation.  

  1. Engage sponsors throughout the entire project 

Sponsors are often managers from middle to top levels. Hence their schedule tends to be very busy. As the project moves on and if no alert is raised, they will not take the lead and they will let things go by. An easy way to involve your sponsors is to invite them regularly to some agile ceremonies. Reviews and retrospectives are a good way to share the project progress and communicate on the team’s efforts.  

Communicate with your sponsors on a regular basis to ensure their involvement. When coaching a project for an oil and gas company, at first sponsors were only updated on the project during program committees every 6 weeks. It was not enough for them to feel engaged. Thus, we decided to send weekly emails to sponsors to give them a more frequent overview of the project progress. Communication can be completely adapted to the sponsors hierarchical level: an email can be easier to share with a top manager than having them to every single ceremony.  

Sponsors are the cornerstone of your Agile transformation. If you want it to last, make sure they are engaged and fully aware on the methodology and its benefits.  

This article is part of a series of articles on Agile pitfalls and tips to avoid them. You will find the complete series here addressing People, Processes and Technology. 

Are you interested to work on Agile projects and support our clients in their digital transformation? We are hiring: check our job offer!

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